I can’t imagine a life without Ice Cream, or even without cheese. Much less without milk chocolate. I do understand that some folks have to, though, and it’s really unfortunate. It is important to understand that although lactose intolerance can affect our lives in a major way, in most cases it isn’t a disease. Globally speaking, adult intolerance to dairy products is the norm. As mammals, we start our lives dependent upon our mothers’ milk for sustenance. As we grow older and we are able to eat solid foods, mother’s milk (laden with lactose) becomes unnecessary. In the great majority of cases, our bodies naturally stop producing the enzymes necessary (lactases) to break down milk sugars around age five. Thanks, Evolution!
Sometime in the last ten thousand years, certain cultures became more dependent upon herd animals such as cattle and goats to survive. Milk drinking is more easily tolerated by northern Europeans and people from certain parts of Africa because of this. On the other side of the globe, intolerance is as prevalent as 95 percent in people of Asian and Native American ancestry. It is one of the great examples of recent human evolution—though that fact doesn’t do you a lot of good if you’re bent over the toilet painfully regretting that delicious ice cream sundae.
Lactose Intolerance Symptoms and Types
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Gurgling sounds coming from your belly
- Extreme flatulence
Primary lactose intolerance: Caused by the normal reduction of lactase production in our bodies as they age.
Secondary lactose intolerance: Caused by an illness or injury in the intestine that damages its ability to produce lactase.
Congenital lactose intolerance: A genetic condition in which a person is born unable to produce lactase.
Best Treatment for Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance is normal in adults; however, getting tested for other causes is a good idea.
The symptoms associated with lactose intolerance are similar to any number of intestinal maladies. They might be caused by irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, a gluten allergy, or even a milk allergy. Any of these possible diagnoses are far more serious than an intolerance and you should talk to your doctor if you have any questions. Lactose intolerance itself can be tested with a fasting blood glucose test or a hydrogen breath test. You should get it checked out, just in case.
Avoidance is the easiest solution to problems with digesting milk sugars.
You are going to find that lactose is in all kinds of odd things. Most people, even with reduced lactase production, can still eat small amounts of things like naturally aged cheese, cultured yogurt, real sour cream, and butter. Because lactose is water-soluble, it ends up staying with the whey, leaving the curds pretty safe. Also, the fermentation process of making yogurt and sour cream reduces lactose. Low-fat alternatives will be higher in lactose and may actually have some added back in to make them more palatable.
There are many non-dairy alternatives to choose from.
Once relegated to the patchouli-laced aisles of your local health-food store, more and more of these dairy-free alternatives are becoming available in everyday grocery stores. This is because of the growing awareness of food intolerances and allergies, and also the popularity of ethics-based diet fads like veganism. There are several families of lactose-free substitutions, usually made of soy, almonds, or rice. These products certainly aren’t exacting imitations of their lactose-laced brethren, but they provide many of the same nutrients without the paralyzing gas pains.
Supplements can help you digest lactose more easily.
Since lactose intolerance is technically lactase deficiency, there are products available that make up for that deficiency by adding it into your diet. If you absolutely must eat dairy products, especially ones high in lactose (like skim milk), take a lactase enzyme pill or use lactase enzyme drops to supplement your diet. Lactaid has a full line of great products that have reduced lactose or contain the enzyme you need to digest the milk products properly. Eating active culture yogurt with every meal will help break down lactose as well. If you want to try these supplements out, Amazon has a large variety to peruse.
Rehabituation can help certain people with some types of lactose intolerance.
This isn’t going to work for all people. Some people just don’t have the ability to create lactase in their intestines. Rehabituation can work for adults who were at one time able to eat dairy products, but then after a bout with an illness found that they could no longer tolerate dairy. It’s all about starting small and building back up to your previous levels. It is likely that your intestine was somehow irritated and that irritation affected lactase production. With time and moderation some lactose tolerance might return.
Lactose Intolerance and Calcium
Although drinking milk and eating dairy products isn’t technically natural or necessary for our species beyond childhood, there is a reason certain cultures became adapted to its use: Milk is full of all kinds of great vitamins and nutrients. Besides having the protein and carbohydrates needed to survive, it also contains vital minerals like calcium, which is important for healthy bone growth. Most commercially available milk these days has vitamin D added to it as well. Amazon sells Nature’s Bounty Calcium supplements with Vitamin D. So, if you are going to avoid dairy products, you should definitely replace those two items with a multivitamin supplement. Eating more foods that are high in calcium like almonds, bok choy, broccoli, canned salmon, kale, oranges, pinto beans, rhubarb, and spinach will help too.