Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products. This deficiency is caused by the human body not being able to produce the enzyme lactase.
Lactose is made of two forms of sugar, glucose and galactose, which are absorbed into the bloodstream. Luckily, not all people with lactose interlace have such bad problems with it. Most people with lactose intolerance can handle a small amount of lactose in their diet. Sometimes, people confuse lactose intolerance with cow milk allergy. Having cow milk allergy means your body can’t handle even the smallest amount of milk: it could be life-threatening.
Lactose intolerance is caused by genetics or just appears when the body stops producing as much lactase. Most people with this disorder usually don’t experience symptoms until adulthood. Some symptoms of lactose intolerance are abdominal pain and bloating, gas, diarrhea and nausea. People with lactose intolerance will feel some of these symptoms within 30 minutes to 2 hours of consuming any lactose.
Doctors have two ways of diagnosing people with lactose intolerance. One is called the hydrogen breath test. This test requires the patient to consume any product with lactose in it. Then, their breath is analyzed at intervals of time to detect the level of hydrogen in the breath of the person. Normally, the hydrogen level in a person’s breath is low because the person has digested the lactose, but if the person has not properly digested it, the hydrogen content will be much higher.
There are many ways to treat lactose intolerance. One of them is just through dietary changes. If that doesn’t work out for you, they also sell over-the-counter tablets that will give you the lactase enzyme. After taking these tablets, you may try to consume small amounts of lactose over time. There are also special milks and dairy products that you can buy at the grocery store that are very similar to the real thing but with the enzyme added.
There is a major problem with not being able to eat or drink milk products. This is that the person with lactose intolerance my not be getting enough calcium. Calcium is important for the development and growth of human bones. Without the proper amount of calcium, the bones can become weak and fragile and easier to fracture. But if you have lactose intolerance, there are still goods that you can get calcium from, such as cooked rhubarb, unfortified soy milk, oranges and broccoli.
If you are having some of the symptoms, you should be checked by your doctor immediately. I say this because I know how irritable and cranky you can get if you are lactose intolerant and don’t know it. So get yourself checked out!
Mindy Hogan is a seventh-grader at Schalmont Middle School