Lactose Intolerance Q & A
What causes lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is the inability to break down the lactose found in dairy products.
Lactose is one of many different sugar molecules found in dairy products. The inability to digest lactose properly is often the result of inflammation in the digestive tract, or it is due to your body’s failure to produce sufficient amounts of the lactase enzyme.
Your ethnic background is also a factor. People who are of Native American, Asian, Hispanic, and African descent are prone to be lactose intolerant. Part of this is because many of these cultures — for whatever reason — don’t consume large amounts of dairy products.
Another factor that influences intolerance to lactose is age. As we age, our digestive systems become sluggish and often slow down the production of essential enzymes, such as galactose and lactase.
Is changing your diet all that’s needed to correct the problem?
There’s no known cure for lactose intolerance, and it’s difficult to correct the problem. Instead of “correcting” how the body reacts to lactose, it’s easier to adapt your diet to include foods that don’t act as triggers.
The first step in adjusting the diet is to find the foods that trigger your symptoms. That usually involves dairy products and the foods that contain them.
It’s also important to go through your cabinets and refrigerator. Many foods contain dairy derivatives, such as powdered milk, whey, and dairy fats.
Once these foods have been identified, you need to find replacements that include no dairy products. Each time you go to the grocery store, read the labels and learn to recognize ingredients that are dairy-related.
Can lactose intolerance be prevented?
For most people, the inability to produce sufficient amounts of lactase is a genetic abnormality.
The body is designed to work according to the genetic building blocks it contains. While you can encourage your body to produce slightly more lactase, it may never be able to create enough to reduce the intolerance.
If you’ve received a diagnosis that involves lactose intolerance, you must take the necessary steps to adapt your diet accordingly. For example, eating small amounts of yogurt will reestablish the natural balance of bacteria in the digestive tract and will allow you to eat small amounts of dairy with minimal discomfort as long as you don’t take it to the extreme.