If you’re experiencing some digestive problems that include diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal cramps after eating or drinking dairy products; you’re not alone. A lot of people can relate as these symptoms are pretty common, especially for adults.
However, does that signify having lactose intolerance?
We could not talk about lactose intolerance without mentioning the lactase; the enzyme which is the source of the problem. Produced in your small intestine, it helps you digest the milk sugar (lactose) by breaking down the lactose into two simple sugars, glucose and galactose. That’s how they are then absorbed in your bloodstream.
In case of intolerance, lactase secretion would be very low. The deficiency of the enzyme makes that the undigested lactose is transported to your gut, which explains having an upset stomach and all these digestive disorders. It’s usually harmless, but it still can cause you very unpleasant feelings.
How do we know that we have a lactase deficiency?
The intolerance symptoms a rather general, but if you notice that they are severe or you have other symptoms like vomiting and constipation for more than 2 weeks, you need to get a check-up at the hospital to make an accurate diagnostic before eliminating all dairy products.
Why are we lactose-intolerant?
Lactose intolerance rarely touches children under the age of three; but is more frequent from the age of 5. This particular enzyme is extremely important for infants to digest breast milk. However, as we get older, the lactase level starts to decrease and we lose it slowly.
Hence, age is the common cause of the deficiency, while genes and ethnicity also play a good part in it since research shows that some populations are at higher risks than the others.
It might be also caused by other illnesses (intestinal infection, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease), injury, or surgery involving your small intestine which would result in a reduced the production of lactase.
Then why are we still drinking milk?
Milk contains an important amount of calcium and protein that enhance growth and maintain strong bones, as well as improve the immune system during childhood.
Yet, we still consume milk in adulthood. And not any milk; animal milk, like cow milk, that is basically meant to feed calf for their rapid growth.
As for adults; despite the fact that milk is nutrient-rich, we don’t really benefit from it anymore when our body is completely grown.
In other words, milk is rich in lactose which becomes hard to digest, and causes perturbation in the absorption of the other nutrients.
As a consequence, the intake should be minimalized.
Should we quit dairy products?
Although Dairy food is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamins, it still contains lactose. So, are we supposed to ditch them from our diet?
Not necessarily, as the severity of symptoms depends on how much lactose you can tolerate and how much you consume on a daily basis. I believe that understanding our bodies is the key to see how we react to each product we consume in small or large quantities.
You can still go with the dairy food if you have a mild intolerance, by moderating the amount and choosing dairy that is naturally low in lactose. Here are a few examples to help:
- Butter: 0.1 g for each 100 g;
- Heavy cream: 0.5 ml for each 15 ml;
- The amount varies more when it comes to cheese. For hard cheese like cheddar and parmesan, the longer a cheese is aged the lower the amount would be;
- Fermented dairy (Yogurt, Kefir..).
On the other hand, you may find it more to just opt out on all animal dairy products and replace them with plant-based ones. The only challenge the would be their higher prices and lack of availability depending on where you are located.
We generally are at risk of becoming lactose-intolerant as we grow older. But it’s not always necessary to remove all the dairy food if you have mild intolerance, which you would be able to know by controlling yourself, or having yourself checked-up in case of severe symptoms.
Note: lactose-intolerance symptoms are general, and they might signify other digestive problems.