I’m Lactose Intolerant! What Happened?

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As children we’re told to drink plenty of milk so we’ll grow up big and healthy and strong. Not to mention it’s a great source of calcium so it’s good for your bones and teeth, too. Heck, one of the most famous advertising slogans of all time was about milk. It’s an all-around, all-occasion drink that pairs perfectly with almost everything from cookies to cake, from breakfast to dessert. So what’s not to like? Well, if you happen to suffer from a degree of lactose intolerance (as an estimated sixty-five percent of the world’s population does), then plenty, as a matter of fact.

What Exactly Does Lactose Intolerant Mean?

Lactose is the name of a sugar found in common dairy products such as milk and cheese. If someone is diagnosed as lactose intolerant, than that means they have low levels of an enzyme called lactase in their digestive system. Lactase is what breaks down the lactose sugar into glucose and galactose, both of which are then readily into the body. Without lactase, however, the raw lactose skips the absorption and ends up in the large intestine and colon – and that’s where the trouble begins.

Once there, the colon’s bacteria try to break down the lactose, but can’t get the job done. After about thirty minutes to two hours, that inability to process the lactose sugar leads to the common symptoms of lactose intolerance: gas, abdominal bloating and cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and even vomiting. And, of course, the more dairy consumed, the worse the symptoms usually turn out to be.

Genetics seem to play a significant role in whether or not someone is lactose intolerant, and it is actually overwhelmingly common in many Asian and African countries. There are a number of methods (including a blood test and a hydrogen breath test) to determine whether or not you or someone in your family is affected, so if you’re experiencing stomach problems after eating or drinking dairy products, contact your health care provider for an evaluation and a confirmed diagnosis.