Lactose Intolerance - We all know someone

Lactose intolerance is a common cause of diarrhoea, abdominal cramping, discomfort and bloating. It is caused by an insufficiency of lactase, the enzyme which breaks down the milk sugar lactose. When lactose is broken down into simpler sugars it can be absorbed into the bloodstream from the small intestine. When it is not broken down it enters the large intestine. Here it is broken down by bacteria and produces excess gas, which causes the bloating, flatulence and discomfort. It also draws water into the bowel, causing diarrhoea and cramping.

While 20% of Causasians lack the gene that is responsible for the production of the enzyme beyond early childhood, this figure is as high as 90% in people of Asian descent. Lactose intolerance can also be caused by the overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, or by a bout of gastroenteritis which can cause a loss of the enzyme for several weeks.

Diagnosis can be confirmed by a lactose breath hydrogen test which can be requested by your doctor. You can start by having a trial period of avoiding all sources of lactose in your diet. If your symptoms improve dramatically it is possible that you have lactose intolerance.

There are two main ways to treat lactose intolerance. The first is to reduce or eliminate the amount of lactose you eat by avoiding milk and dairy products. The other is to take Lacteeze, an enzyme substitute that we have in the pharmacy.

Of all dairy products milk and ice cream have the highest concentration of lactose, while cheese and yoghurt have lower amounts. Some processed foods contain lactose and can cause symptoms in very sensitive people.

If you avoid dairy products it is important to ensure you are getting enough calcium in your diet. Non-dairy sources include;

  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Almonds
  • Sesame seeds 
  • Fish bones such as in sardines, anchovies and tinned salmon

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