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Lactose Intolerance  
Your taste buds may be saying "Yes!" to that ice cream but does your stomach disagree?

 

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HealthA glass of milk with lunch, a scoop of ice cream for a treat, or a slice of cheese for a quick snack. Dairy products take many forms and provide a readily available and nutritious source of calcium and vitamins for kids and adults. Yet, there exists a group of people for which dairy products are not agreeable—at least from a digestive system standpoint. Those who have such problems with milk and dairy products are said to be lactose intolerant. The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that an estimated 30 to 50 million people in the United States are lactose intolerant. It adds that certain ethnic groups including African Americans (80 percent), Native Americans (80 to 100 percent), and Asian Americans (90 to 100 percent) have a greater likelihood of digestive problems from eating dairy products. The NIH notes that premature babies are also more likely to be lactose intolerant since basic lactase levels do not increase in a baby until the third trimester of pregnancy.

The NIH defines lactose intolerance as the body’s inability to digest significant amounts of lactose (the major sugar present in milk). The cells which line the walls of the small intestine produce an enzyme called lactase which is necessary in the body’s process of breaking down the sugar in milk into two simpler forms of sugar—glucose and galactose. Those simple forms of sugar are capable of being absorbed into the bloodstream to energize the body. Without the lactase enzyme available to make glucose and galactose available to the bloodstream, the unprocessed lactose proceeds to the colon where the normal bacteria that aid digestion attempt to process it, resulting in gas and bloating.

For someone who is lactose intolerant, the symptoms and signs of the condition typically begin between 30 minutes and 2 hours after eating or drinking something that contains lactose. Indications of lactose intolerance include abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhea, gas, and nausea.

HealthThe Mayo Clinic states that if you suspect lactose intolerance, your family physician can confirm a diagnosis by using any of a number of tests including a lactose tolerance test (measuring glucose levels in the blood after drinking a liquid containing a high level of lactose) or a hydrogen breath test (measuring the amount of hydrogen—the result of undigested lactose fermenting in the colon—exhaled after drinking a liquid containing a high level of lactose).

But don't fret. There are ways to minimize symptoms that do not require you to completely avoid dairy products. In fact, the Mayo Clinic adds that avoiding milk can make it difficult to obtain the right amount of calcium in your diet, which is necessary for healthy teeth and bones. In addition to calcium, milk products provide vitamins A and D, phosphorus, and riboflavin. To minimize the effects of lactose intolerance while maintaining your intake of calcium, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following steps:

  • Buy lactose-reduced or lactose-free products available at most supermarkets.
  • Drink less milk, more often. The smaller the serving size (8 ounces or less), the less likely the milk will lead to digestive problems.
  • Drinking milk with other foods slows the digestive process and reduces the chance of lactose intolerance.
  • Experiment with dairy products. Lactose amounts vary in different products. Hard cheeses (cheddar and Swiss) have small amounts of lactose and typically cause little to no symptoms. Yogurt and cultured milk products are produced using beneficial bacteria, which naturally produces the enzyme that breaks down lactose so they may be tolerated as well.
  • Look for hidden lactose in foods. Many processed and packaged foods contain milk and milk products. Foods that contain lactose (such as baking mixes, milk chocolate, instant soups, cereals, and salad dressings) may cause problems.
  • Find calcium elsewhere in your diet. When large amounts of dairy products aren’t tolerated, calcium can be found in foods such as broccoli, leafy greens, almonds, oranges, and canned salmon and sardines (with small soft bones). More and more foods such as soymilk, breads, juices, and tofu are being fortified with the addition of calcium, so read the label.
  • Supplements such as lactase enzyme drops or tablets taken with dairy products help break down the lactose, thereby reducing the amount your body has to process.
  • Calcium supplements may also help fill the body’s need for calcium.

Also, review the nutrition label for milk based ingredients that contain lactose such as:

  • whey
  • milk byproducts
  • buttermilk
  • dry milk solids
  • malted milk
  • nonfat dry milk powder

So if you or a family member has to think twice before indulging in a scoop of ice cream or a slice of cheese, lactose may be to blame. If so, there are a host of options available to help the body process lactose, so you can enjoy those dairy products with just a little planning and care!

As with any aspect of your family’s health, consult with your family physician or a dietician regarding any questions and before making any dietary changes.

Sources:
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (National Institutes of Health)—http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov
The Mayo Clinic—www.mayoclinic.com

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.



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