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Lactose Intolerance: What does It Mean?
Lactose intolerance is a condition characterized by the inability of the digestive system to digest lactose. The latter is a major sugar found in milk.
In order to be successfully absorbed by the body and enter the bloodstream, lactose must be split into two simple compounds: glucose and galactose. A person, suffering from lactose intolerance lacks a specific enzyme lactase, which is aimed at breaking down lactose. Lactase is produced by the cells that form the inner lining of the small intestine.
There can be several reasons for the lactase deficiency. First of all, it may occur as a primary disorder, where the amounts of the produced enzymes decrease over time. Here genetics may play a key role. Lactase deficiency may also develop as a secondary disease, resulting from the other digestive tract disorders (for example, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, etc.), which cause injuries to the inner lining of the intestines.
Usually, lactose intolerance develops or aggravates as people age due to the decrease in the number of the lactase enzymes. The average onset of the symptoms is about adulthood or during the teenage years. However, new-born babies may also suffer from lactose intolerance.
The main symptoms of the condition include a number of gastrointestinal events: abdominal cramps, gas, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. The signs usually occur upon the consuming of the foods, which contain lactose (milk, cheeses, yogurt, ice-cream, and multiple products made adding milk or its derivatives). These uncomfortable feelings develop when the indigested lactose passes through the intestines into the colon and is used there by the bacteria for their own purposes.
The severity of the symptoms depends on the amount of the consumed lactose-containing foods and individual characteristics of the sufferer, as his/her age, ability to tolerate certain amounts of lactose, and even nationality (some peoples are more prone to lactose intolerance than others).
There exist different ways to diagnose the condition of lactose intolerance. The Lactose Tolerance Test presupposes fasting before drinking liquid that contains lactose (milk). In two hours blood tests are done to evaluate the glucose levels and thus define whether lactose had been digested. Intestinal Biopsy will discover the presence and number of lactase enzymes in the tract.
The Hydrogen Breath Test measures the amount of hydrogen in the exhaled air, which level is high if lactose remains indigested. Stool Acidity Test may be done to define the rates of different acids in the stool. Even the elimination diet may work for some people. If the symptoms disappear when no lactose-containing foods are consumed, lactose intolerance may be suggested.
It is said that the treatment of lactose intolerance is quite easy. Here are the options available today:
-         one can avoid lactose-containing products;
-         it is possible to reduce the consumption of lactose – smaller amounts may be well-tolerated by some people;
-         adaptation therapy may be of help for others: if one can safely consume small amounts of lactose, he/she may gradually increase its intake, thus making a body get used to this element;
-         patients may take lactase-containing pills or liquids, available without prescription, prior to consuming foods with lactase.
Lactose intolerance is considered to be a comparatively harmless disorder; nevertheless, it may also have unpleasant consequences on the general health of a patient, if the condition remains ignored. Most often people are at the risk of developing osteoporosis due to the calcium deficiency, if they do not consume milk products. Vitamin D deficiency is another problem raising from the same basis. In order to avoid these complications, one may take dietary supplements containing the above mentioned elements.
Lactose intolerance is quite a common condition, affecting millions of people worldwide. Some of them, however, remain untreated or suffer from only mild symptoms or experience no signs at all. Others simply live in the environments where low consumption of dairy products makes them unaware of their intolerance and ensures their security. At the same time, scientists confirm that estimated 75% of the human kind has traits to lactose intolerance. Astonishing number isn’t it?



          Lactose-containing products
                            Lactose content
e.g. unprocessed cow milk has 4.7% lactose
200 g of low-fat yogurt has 7.9 g of lactose
100 g of cottage cheese has 1.4 g of lactose
Ice cream
50 g contains 2.8 g of lactose
Sour cream
50 g has 4 g of lactose
20 g contains 0.6 g of lactose
Lactose content may vary depending on the brand and the way the product is made
Processed meats (sausages, hot-dogs)
Dried fruits
Prepared meals
Salad dressings
about 20% of prescription and 6% of OTC drugs contain lactose

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