Lactose intolerance, also known as lactase deficiency, occurs when someone is unable to digest lactose, which is a sugar found in dairy products, such as milk, cheese, ice cream and yogurt. This is caused by the body not producing enough of the lactase enzyme needed to digest lactose and, while not life threatening or necessarily dangerous, it can be annoying at best and downright painful at its worst. Because the symptoms often involve abdominal discomfort and frequent trips to the restroom, lactose intolerance can be particularly annoying when you are on the road trying to enjoy a family vacation.
It is estimated that about 30 million adults in the U.S. suffer from some level of lactose intolerance, making this a common condition that many people will have to deal with at some point in their lives. While lactose intolerance is found in children and babies, this condition becomes more common as we get older, which means that many adults may have to adjust their diets as they age to avoid the consequences of consuming more dairy than their bodies can readily digest.
The most common symptoms of lactose intolerance are:
• Abdominal cramps
It is quite common for most people to simply self-diagnose lactose intolerance and make the necessary changes, rather than seek medical attention for testing and diagnosis. However, it should be noted that other health conditions share these symptoms, making it a good idea to rule out other potential causes before settling on a self-diagnosis. There are tests available, such as the lactose-hydrogen breath test and stool acidity tests, which can assist your healthcare provider in determining whether or not it is lactose intolerance that is causing your symptoms. Once other possibilities have been ruled out, it is important to return to your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen or are not alleviated by dietary changes, or if new symptoms arise.
Some folks with lactase deficiency find that certain dairy products cause symptoms, while consuming other dairy products does not seem to bother them at all. For example, some find that they cannot drink milk without experiencing symptoms, but are able to consume cheese or yogurt. Experimenting with different dairy products will allow you to determine which foods and beverages are safe to consume and which may cause problems. Most people who are living with lactose intolerance are able to manage it by limiting or eliminating problem dairy products from their diets. Others opt for lactose-free products, soy-based milks, cheeses and ice creams, or dairy products that have lactase added to them to aid digestion. There are also over-the-counter tablets and capsules designed specifically to aid those with lactase deficiency in enjoying their favorite dairy products without experiencing the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Folks who experience symptoms with the consumption of any amount of dairy will want to be sure to read food labels on a wide variety of products – not just dairy products – since lactose can be found in salad dressings, chocolate candy and even some beer.