What Is Lactose Intolerance or Lactase Deficiency?
Lactose Intolerance, also known by the name of Lactase Deficiency, is a pathological condition defined by the body’s inability to digest lactose, a substance found in dairy products in abundance and consumed nearly on an everyday basis. Lactose Intolerance is a relatively benign condition, but it tends to be quite an uncomfortable experience for the affected individual. Lactose Intolerance arises due to inadequate production of an enzyme called lactase, which is produced in the small intestine. Depleted level of lactase is quite a common condition, but in some cases the depletion goes to an extent where it starts to cause uncomfortable symptoms for an individual. These symptoms are usually controlled by limiting lactose intake, which means limiting the amount of dairy products consumed on a daily basis.
What Are The Causes Of Lactose Intolerance or Lactase Deficiency?
The root cause as stated for Lactose Intolerance is deficiency of an enzyme called lactase, which is produced in the small intestine. In normal circumstances, the lactase produced in the small intestine gets attached to the lactose molecules and breaks it down into simple sugars but in case the body is unable to break down lactose, it results in Lactose Intolerance. If lactose is not digested in the small intestine, it moves undigested into the colon where the bacteria present react with it resulting in classic symptoms of Lactose Intolerance or Lactase Deficiency which are bloating, gas, diarrhea etc.
There are basically three types of Lactose Intolerance:
- Primary Lactose Intolerance: This type of Lactose Intolerance is caused due to gradual reduction of production of lactase with aging resulting in symptoms of Lactose Intolerance.
- Secondary Lactose Intolerance: This type of Lactose Intolerance develops when the production of lactase in the small intestine is affected by some sort of illness, surgery, or an injury to the small intestine. It can also occur as a result of disease conditions like celiac disease, gastroenteritis, or Crohn’s disease.
- Congenital Lactose Intolerance: In rare cases, some babies are born with complete loss of lactase. It is an inherited condition and passed down from families.
What Are The Symptoms Of Lactose Intolerance or Lactase Deficiency?
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance or Lactase Deficiency Include:
- Nausea with at times vomiting
- Abdominal cramping
How Is Lactose Intolerance Diagnosed or Lactase Deficiency?
The treating physician may suspect Lactose Intolerance or Lactase Deficiency as a cause of symptoms based on the description of the symptoms and the response of the body to decreased diary products in the diet. In order to confirm the diagnosis, the following tests may be performed:
- Lactose Tolerance Test: This test determines the body’s reaction to high levels of lactose. A liquid with high amount of lactose will be given to the individual and after a couple of hours, blood test will be done to measure the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. If lactose is not appropriately digested, it will show in the results and confirm the diagnosis of Lactose Intolerance.
- Hydrogen Breath Test: Under normal circumstances, the body does not give out high amounts of hydrogen gas. In cases of Lactose Intolerance, the undigested lactose goes into the colon where it reacts with the bacteria and releases hydrogen gas which is exhaled by the individual. In this test, high amount of lactose is given through a liquid and hydrogen gas is measured in the breath. If the levels of hydrogen gas are high in the breath then it will confirm the presence of Lactose Intolerance.
- Stool Acidity Test: This test is for infants and children who are not in a position to undergo the above tests. The undigested lactose produces lactic acid which passes through the stool and can be detected through a stool test.
What Are The Treatments For Lactose Intolerance or Lactase Deficiency?
As of now, there is no definitive treatment for Lactose Intolerance. The treatment is basically aimed at controlling symptoms and the best way to do it is by limiting the amount of dairy product intake. There are products available in the market which is made for individuals with Lactose Intolerance, which can be used instead of regular dairy products.
Home Remedies For Lactose Intolerance or Lactase Deficiency
The best home remedy for controlling symptoms of Lactose Intolerance is limiting consumption of dairy products, but this comes at a cost of limited calcium and vitamin D intake which has its own signs and symptoms. The individual can increase calcium intake by taking foods like the following which are rich in calcium:
- Canned salmon
- Soy milk or rice milk
- Pinto Beans
Apart from this vitamin D is also lost when an individual eliminates dairy products from the diet. This can be supplemented with eggs, liver and yogurt which have ample amounts of vitamin D.
Should A Lactose Intolerant Individual Completely Stop Lactose Containing Products?
The answer to this is that it is not necessary to stop all lactose containing products completely, as a lactose intolerant individual still has the capability to absorb some amount of lactose. If the affected individual completely stops all forms of dairy products, this might lead to calcium and vitamin D deficiency with its inherent complications. The amount of lactose which a person can tolerate is quite variable and depends on the amount of lactase produced by the intestine. Hence, an individual may not experience any symptoms after consuming excess milk whereas another might have symptoms by even slight intake of dairy products. Research suggests that a lactose intolerant individual will be able to tolerate approximately 10 grams of lactose in the diet without experiencing significant symptoms which amounts to approximately one cup of milk a day.
Are There Any Medications To Avoid In An Individual With Lactose Intolerance or Lactase Deficiency?
It is also noted that there are some types of medications which contain lactose, namely birth control pills and medications used to treat gas or stomach acid problems which are easily available over-the-counter. These medications tend to cause gastrointestinal symptoms in lactose intolerant individuals and hence it is best to avoid these medications. The affected individuals need to speak to the treating physician for alternative forms of birth control and medications free of lactose to control gas and acidity symptoms.