Lactose intolerance is a global problem of almost 65% of the world population. This condition is very common among people of Asian and African descent. Carbohydrates are just a complex form of sugars. Monosaccharides contain the three most common forms of sugars the glucose, fructose and galactose. Carbohydrates are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in a ratio of 2:1. Further, a disaccharide is a combination of two molecules. Disaccharides are also carbohydrates. All these sugar molecules are the primary source of energy for the body.
Of the three forms of sugar, we mentioned at the beginning, glucose is a very important component of the body. Although we consume galactose and fructose, the body needs its energy source as a form of glucose. Therefore, conversion from galactose and fructose to glucose takes place. So most of you’ll be wondering why we’re talking about all these types of sugar and stuff and what all these have to do with lactose intolerance.
WHAT IS LACTOSE INTOLERENCE ?
Among all the sugars discussed above, the carbohydrates we consume are in the form of a disaccharide. One notorious type of disaccharide is lactose. In some people, this lactose tends to cause serious gastrointestinal troubles. Lactose is a disaccharide that’s made up of two monosaccharide molecules glucose and galactose molecules.
A person becomes lactose intolerant if the small intestine of the person stops secreting the enzyme lactase. Lactase is responsible for cutting down and breaking the lactose molecules. When we are an infant an abundant amount of lactase is secreted by the intestine due to the fact that milk forms the primary part of our diet. But, when we are around 3-5 years of age, the amount of lactase enzyme the body produces is significantly reduced. This is because as we age we wean towards a much solid diet.
Further, the undigested lactose stays in the digestive system where it is widely fermented by the gut residing flora into various gases.
When this enzyme is reduced too much or is completely absent the person becomes lactose intolerant unable to consume any milk-based products without side effects.
SYMPTOMS OF LACTOSE INTOLERANCE:
Depending on the reason for lactose intolerance this condition can be either temporary or permanent. Mostly, the condition is lifelong. But, in most cases of lactose intolerance in children, the condition is temporary. Unlike adults, lactose intolerance in children is due to infection of the digestive tract which can be easily controlled by antibiotics. Unlike other conditions, most of us would be pretty aware of the symptoms of lactose intolerance. Some of them include,
- Mild cramping and tendernes of the stomach
- Growling of stomach
- Feeling sick
- A bloated stomach
- Loosend stools or diarrhoea (dehydration is a result of chronic diarrhoea)
- Belching etc.,
This brings us to the types of lactose intolerance. The three major types include,
|TYPE OF LACTOSE INTOLERANCE||FEATURES AND ISSUES ENCOUNTERED|
|Primary lactose intolerance||This is the type that occurs very early in an individual. The individual usually starts showing symptoms when the person is weaned towards solid foods. Further, this is also the most common type of lactose intolerance.|
|Familial lactase deficiency||In this type, the lactase enzyme production is very normal. But, the ability to break down the lactose for further absorption in the blood is the problem|
|Congenital lactase deficiency||So, this is the type in which the problem is genetic. Here, the gene mutation is passed on from the parents. The kids are usually born with very little or no lactase enzyme.|
DIAGNOISNG LACTOSE INTOLERANCE:
Usually, when you detect you might have this condition, it is wise to maintain a food diary. This food diary is a very useful aid in diagnosing and differentiating between lactose intolerance and food or dairy allergy. This is a very simple yet efficient solution. So, you can start by recording the type of food you consume in a day with the timings and the symptoms that you experience after you take that food. Further, diagnosis is based on the following tests,
LACTOSE TOLERANCE TEST:
After an extended period of fast, we can perform this test (mostly overnight). It usually starts with taking a cup of lactose. Draw a small amount of blood. Subsequently, an assessment of blood sugar levels follows. If the sugar levels remain the same, then you might be lactose intolerant
HYDROGEN BREATH TEST:
After an extended period of fast, we can perform this test. In this, the person is given lactose solution and the amount of hydrogen in the breath is analyzed. High o increased levels of hydrogen suggest this condition. This is due to the reason, that the lactose is broken down into carbon, hydrogen and oxygen by the gut flora.
THE STOOL SAMPLE TEST:
The presence of fatty acids and acetate indicate lactose intolerance. Their presence can indicate this condition in the individual. Mainly done to assess the condition in kids.
With the above-mentioned tests, certain other important conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other celiac diseases.
CERTAIN HEALTH RISKS OF LACTOSE INTOLERANCE:
Certain risks that patients with lactose intolerance develop include,
Due to the restricted amount of calcium from the diet, the circulating calcium in the body comes down. This way the person has a higher chance of developing osteoporosis. The health of the bones and the teeth come down. This brittleness can lead to fractures. Women are more prone to osteoporosis than men.
Having osteopenia puts you at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. So, when you have osteopenia, the mineral density or the total bones mass comes down significantly.
When you restrict your diet significantly by avoiding a majority of the group of foods, you put yourself at risk of malnutrition. All these factors combined together can put you at a higher risk of a lot of health conditions. One leads to another and a person can end up being unhealthy.
EASING LACTOSE INTOLERANCE:
So, once diagnosed with lactose intolerance, there are certain precautions to take while dealing with this condition.
- Be aware of what you consume. Have an eye on your diet
- There are a lot of lactose free products available in the market. Do your fair share of research and select the best for you. After all, only an individual can know his body more thoroughly than a physician.
- Further, these lactose free products include stuff like cow’s milk, cheese, soyas, almonds, quinoa etc. Read the labels carefully beforfe consuming.
- Most people can tolerate some amount of lactose on a daily basis. For instance, these people can consume upto
POINTS TO WATCH OUT:
Be extra careful with your general health when dealing with health issues. So, lactose intolerance can highly cut out your major source of calcium and certain vitamins due to the restrictions of dairy products. So, it is wise to regularly monitor your vitamin and other mineral levels. Based on the levels, your physician might start you on calcium and vitamin D supplements. It is really important to manage your deficiencies by the prescribed amount of supplements to prevent the harmful condition of hypervitaminosis.