The Science behind Lactose Intolerance

The Science behind Lactose Intolerance

BRIA BURCIAGA

MILK.

Love it or hate it there is a science to why it might make your stomach gurgle or give you a headache.  Believe it or not, most people with lactose malabsorption do not even have clinical lactose intolerance.  There are other intestinal issues, such as dairy allergy.  But for the purpose of this article we will talk about lactose-intolerance.

 

Lactose is composed to two sugars (glucose and galactose) and is in many products we eat and drink, especially in America.  Unfortunately, some people lack the enzyme – lactase – necessary to break down this sugar.  This deficiency of the lactase enzyme results in passing gas, diarrhea, bloating, and general abdominal pain in attempts at digesting milk.

 

Several mechanisms accurately measure if an individual is lactose-intolerant. One example is the blinded challenge of ingested lactose, where the individual is given lactose as well as a placebo, or the hydrogen breath test.  The latter requires the patient to ingest 50 grams of lactose after fasting, and then the hydrogen levels in the breath are tested.  When lactose is undigested, the fermentation produces hydrogen, CO2, and methane eliminated through the breath via the lungs.  This test, however, is not 100% accurate because it does depend on your own flora.

 

The tests can report different levels of lactase deficiency: nonpersistence, secondary, and congenital alactasia (which is extremely rare).  Nonpersistence is also known as “primary” and is due to a decrease of genetic expression of lactase. Secondary is temporary and can be caused by different factors that manipulate the mucosa in your intestine.  This includes gastroenteritis, Crohn’s, and more. Congenital alactasia is a newborn disease where he cannot produce lactase and cannot process it.  

 

From personal experience, I, as well as my gastrointestinal tract, am so happy I no longer eat dairy.  Not only would it make me sick, but it would also break my bank due to the exorbitant amount of pizza and queso I would consume.  To compensate for my missing nutrients I take supplements as well as eating lots of kale, sweet potatoes, oranges, and almonds.  If you are considering giving up dairy, it is imperative to continue getting proper nutrition! Dairy helps fight osteoporosis as well as reducing your risk of hypertension; while there are some pros, there are also cons.  

 

Some tips to help manage your lactose intolerance symptoms (assuming you do not have dairy allergy, which is a whole different ballgame) would be to try lactase pills when consuming a limited amount of lactose, make small changes (such as instead of whole milk try mozzarella because 50 grams contains 0.04 grams of lactose), and stay away from milk if your symptoms are too drastic.  

 

The good news around all of this is that you can adapt to what your body can handle.


 

Nutrition, Dairy. "Lactose Intolerance: Definition and Diagnosis." Dairy Nutrition RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

Nutrition, Dairy. "Lactose Intolerance: Health Authorities’ Recommendations." Dairy Nutrition RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

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