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All About Lactase and Dairy Intolerance

Do you think you may be dairy intolerant?

What is lactose?

Lactose is sometimes known as “milk sugar”. It actually has the identical chemical formula to sucrose which is a table sugar although sucrose is much sweeter. Lactose is a disaccharide which is made up of two simple sugars – glucose and galactose.

What is lactase?

As we mentioned above, lactose is made up of glucose and galactose. As part of the digesting of lactose, we need lactase. Lactase is an enzyme which is found in the lining of the small intestine and helps break up the glucose and galactose to make the digestion process easier.

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is when the body is unable to properly digest lactose. This is because of a lack of the enzyme lactase. If we don’t have lactase, the lactose can’t be absorbed into the bloodstream. Instead it passes unabsorbed into the colon. The lactose in the colon ferments and this is when we get some of the unpleasant symptoms.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?

Symptoms can appear anywhere from half an hour to two hours after eating a food containing milk or dairy e.g. cheese, yoghurts, cream etc. The symptoms can also vary from being quite mild to quite severe. This is because some people produce a small amount of lactase and may therefore be able to tolerate a small amount of dairy containing foods. The fermentation of the lactose in the colon can cause symptoms such as wind, bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Who is likely to be lactose intolerant?

Lactose intolerance can be common in certain populations and lactase levels can decline with age. This is why some people become intolerant as they get older. We know that the percentage of the population that has a decrease in lactase as they age is less than 10% in Northern Europe but as high as 95% in parts of Africa and Asia. We also know that there is a genetic link with lactose intolerance and that some people produce no lactase at all right from birth. Some people develop lactose intolerance as a result of injury to the small intestine or some form of infection. With infections, the intolerance often only lasts for a few weeks

How do  know if I have a milk allergy or if I'm lactose intolerant?

Lactose intolerance is different from having a milk allergy. The way to find out is to drink some lactose-free milk. If you don’t have any symptoms, then you know that you have a lactose intolerance. If you have the same symptoms as usual, then you may have a milk allergy.

How is lactose intolerance treated?

It is not always easy to diagnose lactose intolerance through symptoms alone as the symptoms can be quite similar to other conditions. You can try drinking two large glasses of milk and then monitoring your symptoms. Repeat this a day later and see if you think there is a connection between the glass of milk and any symptoms. You can also get a more accurate diagnosis from your Doctor. A diagnosis can be obtained either by a breath test, blood test, stool test or intestinal biopsy.

Should I remove dairy containing foods from my diet?

We would always recommend that you get a proper diagnosis before removing milk and dairy from your diet. It may be that the symptoms you are experiencing aren’t caused by a lactose intolerance and are in fact caused by other reasons as discussed above.

What is the link between being lactose intolerant and osteoporosis?

One of the primary risk factors for developing osteoporosis is not getting enough calcium in your diet. Because dairy products are a major source of calcium, some people with lactose intolerance who avoid dairy may be at risk. People who are lactose intolerant should follow the same basic strategies to build and maintain healthy bones and should pay extra attention to getting enough calcium.

How do I look after my bones if I'm lacose intolerant?

A well-balanced diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D is important for healthy bones. Good sources of calcium include dairy foods, dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, sardines and tofu. Supplementing with lactase can help people with lactose intolerance meet their daily requirements of calcium by enabling them to eat dairy containing foods.

Vitamin D can be obtained from food but only in small amounts. Food sources include eggs, fish oil, mushrooms and fortified food. Otherwise, our body manufactures Vitamin D on contact with the sun. If you are concerned about your Vitamin D levels, please feel free to speak to one of our Nutrition Advisors for advice on 01892 552 175.

Exercise is also beneficial for good bone health. The best activity for your bones is any weight-bearing exercise that forces you to work against gravity. Examples include walking, weight training, climbing stairs and dancing. If you are concerned about your bone health, you may wish to speak to your Doctor about whether you may be a candidate for a Bone Mineral Density test which can help detect osteoporosis before a bone fracture occurs.

What foods contain lactose?

CLICK HERE to see what foods contain lactose

How does taking a lactase supplement help?

Taking a lactase supplement with a meal containing dairy, helps break down the lactose in the absence of your body producing its own lactase.

Can I eat dairy foods if I take a lactase supplement?

If you have a lactose intolerance, taking a lactase supplement should help avoid or reduce your symptoms. You should therefore be able to start eating dairy foods again without your usual symptoms!

When should I take the lactase supplement?

Take 1 tablet immediately before your meal if it contains any dairy products.


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