Lactose intolerance, to state it very simple, is the body’s inability to digest lactose, a protein found in dairy products including milk, cheese, and some beers.Â The underlying problem is the body’s lack of lactase, an enzyme produced by the lining of your small intestine.Â Lactase is essential in the breakdown of lactose.
It is estimated that as many as thirty percent of all Americans suffer from lactose intolerance, a serious condition that results from a lack of the enzyme lactase, which is required in order to break down lactose in the digestive system. Lactose intolerance is sometimes misidentified or confused with a dairy intolerance or allergy, but the two conditions are quite different with disparate symptoms and root causes. While most dairy intolerances are relatively minor, in some extreme cases dairy allergies can result in serious or life-threatening reactions which may require immediate hospitalization. For this reason, itâ€™s essential to determine whether an individual is suffering from lactose intolerance or from dairy intolerance before a serious situation develops. There is no cure for either condition, but avoiding the products that trigger reactions is usually an effective treatment for both lactose intolerance and dairy intolerance.
Individuals with lactose intolerance cannot break down the simple sugar lactose found in milk and many other dairy products. As a result, the lactose in these foods passes virtually unchanged through the digestive system, creating a wide range of effects including painful gas, bloating, and severe stomach cramps. These symptoms typically worsen with age, and can be extremely uncomfortable, but are not usually serious or life threatening. Treatments include lactase supplements and avoidance. Some doctors recommend slowly introducing small amounts of dairy into the diet of lactose intolerant individuals in order to reduce the level of intolerance; this usually is an uncomfortable process, however, and has not achieved consistent results.
Dairy intolerances and allergies are the result of a misidentification by the bodyâ€™s immune system of dairy products such as lactose or casein; rather than breaking them down normally as food, the bodyâ€™s defensive system attacks these materials as foreign and releases white blood cells and chemicals including histamines to try to fight off the misidentified materials. While lactose intolerance and dairy sensitivity share some of the same symptoms including bloating, excessive gas, cramps, and nausea, dairy sensitivities also can cause skin rashes and eczema, asthma attacks, and upper respiratory congestion. In extreme cases, dairy sensitivities can trigger anaphylactic shock, a serious allergic reaction with symptoms including hives and itching, heart palpitations, confusion and anxiety to include slurred speech, and coughing, wheezing, and difficulty in breathing due to swollen airways. While antihistamines are sometimes prescribed for mild cases of dairy intolerance, the best treatment is to avoid dairy products containing the offending substances. Some children who exhibit symptoms of dairy intolerance outgrow the problem in adolescence or adulthood, while others must avoid dairy products for their entire lives.
For those who are lactose intolerant, one of the more embarrassing, but not dangerous, effects of lactose intolerance is the onset of flatulence after eating dairy.Â When the body does not have enough lactase to breakdown the lactose in the food, the undigested lactose sits in the gut and is broken down by bacteria.Â The bacteria releases gases which in turn fill up the intestines and cause gas.Â Depending on the amount of lactose, the individual, and the sensitivity of the person, symptoms could range from simple flatulence to cramps, diarrhea, or belching.