Lactose intolerance, causes and treatment

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 According to studies almost the 2/3 of population have lactose intolerance, mainly in Asia, Africa and South America. Lactose intolerance is caused due to reduced activity of lactase, the enzyme that metabolizes lactose in the gastrointestinal tract. The term “intolerance” creates a negative feeling, although lactose intolerance is not a serious situation.

What is lactose intolerance

  Lactose is a simple carbohydrate (disaccharide) which mainly exists in milk and to a lesser extent, in dairy products. The digestion of lactose is made by an enzyme called lactase, which is secreted in the small intestine.

  In case of reduced activity of enzyme lactase or even deficiency, the lactose passes through the intestinal tract without being digested and absorbed by the intestinal ville. The result is that lactose is then metabolized in the colon by bacterias that colonize the local microflora. This has as a result the production of gas, while also there is pain, floating, colics and discomfort. Lactose intolerance may be the result of other diseases such as irritable bowel disease (IBS), Crohn’s disease and gastroenteritis.

Diagnosis

   The diagnosis of lactose intolerance is made with a blood diagnostic test, which rates the lactose transformation into glucose, after eating a lactose-containing food.

Symptoms

   Symptoms of lactose intolerance become evident in the first half hour after taking lactose and may last from 2 to 6 hours. Common symptoms are bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, colic, gas and even diarrhea.

   Symptoms are dose-dependent, so after consumption of food with high content of lactose, the symptoms may be worse. By fermenting dairy products, lactose content is reduced. This is why yogurts and cheese products are usually more tolerable.

Health risks

   Lactose intolerance pose no health risk. Lactose is the main energy source of children and infants through breast milk. If there is lactose intolerace from an early age, then if not treated properly, it may adversely affect the child’s development. In adults, lactose is not a major source of energy, so there is no problem even if it is not consumed.

   Reduced lactose intake and abstinence from dairy and cheese products can lead to deficiency of vitamin D, riboflavin, calcium and protein.

Treatment

   There is no cure for lactose intolerance. However, there are ways to treat / avoid symptoms.

Diet

   Lactose apart from dairy products, may be hidden in many products and food. If you have lactose intolerance it is advisable to read the nutrition label. There is now a large variety of dairy products labeled as “lactose free“.

  Another option is to consume milk and cheese substitutes or products that have been sufficiently fermented like kefir, so the amount of lactose is significantly lower. Alternatively rich sources of calcium are nuts, soybeans, tofu, green leafy vegetables, sardines, broccoli and shrimps. Finally, various herbal drinks and cereals are enriched in calcium and vitamin D, contributing to the overall daily intake of these trace minerals.

Calcium supplementation

   Children usually don’t like all the aforementioned alternative sources of calcium, like kefir or nuts. However, calcium and vitamin D are very important trace elements for growth and bone density. In this case, taking calcium and vitamin D supplements are necessary. Daily calcium needs range from 800 to 1200 mg per day, depending on the age of child.

Lactase enzyme supplements

   Intolerance to lactose is due to reduced lactase activity or deficiency. The supplemental administration of lactase enzyme either in drops, capsules, tablets or chewable tablets helps to better digest lactose-containing foods and thereby reduce symptoms. Their taking is preceded by a meal containing lactose and the dosage depends on the amount of lactose that is consumed. Lactase supplements are particularly useful and effective as they can even be used by babies in drops in their milk.

   In Vita4you you can find a wide variety of dietary supplements for lactose intolerance.

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