Am I Lactose Intolerant?

New information suggests that many people who have self-diagnosed their lactose intolerance may not actually be lactose intolerant at all. Experts believe that most adults experience at least a bit of difficulty with dairy digestion. Some unpleasant symptoms set in after drinking or eating milk or milk products. Dairy products are great source of vitamin D and calcium, which help promote healthy bones and prevent against osteoporosis and other health issues, so significantly limiting dairy consumption is not necessarily the best option. So before making any rash decisions, you really must ask yourself, ‘am I lactose intolerant?’

What Is Lactose?

Milk and products of milk contain a sugar called lactose. Most nutrient absorption occurs in the small intestine, and lactose is no different. Before entering the blood stream, an enzyme called lactase breaks down the lactose into simple sugars known as galactose and glucose.

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

The condition known as lactose intolerance is characterized by unpleasant digestive symptoms as a result of consuming milk or milk products. These symptoms include bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Lactose intolerance can be caused by a lactase deficiency and lactose malabsorption.

  • If someone has a lactase deficiency, their body is not producing enough lactase to digest the lactose they consume.
  • Lactose malabsorption can be caused by a lactase deficiency. In the case of lactose malabsorption, lactose that is not digested will pass on to the colon.

Not all sufferers of lactose malabsorption and lactase deficiencies will experience digestive symptoms.

How Many People Are Lactose Intolerant?

There are somewhere around 30 million to 50 million Americans who are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is so common that physicians are hesitant to even consider it a disorder. It’s not unusual to naturally progress into experiencing difficulty with digesting lactose as you get older.

Caucasians are the least affected group of people, as only about 20% are lactose intolerant. Native Americans and African Americans are much more affected (75%); and 90% of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant.

Am I Lactose Intolerant?

Well, let’s see how you can find out.

1. Self-Exam

If you have been noticing that you are experiencing some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance after consuming dairy products like gas and abdominal pain, you can cut dairy from your diet for a few days. If you are lactose intolerant, your symptoms should go away. Reincorporate dairy back into your diet and see if your symptoms return. If yes, then you can heed the advice listed below. Always be careful when trying to self-diagnose, as you can easily mistake your symptoms for those of another condition like irritable bowel syndrome.

2. Family, Medical, and Diet History

Your doctor will want to discuss your medical history and that of your family while trying to rule out or diagnose lactose intolerance. Your diet is also of concern during this discussion, so always be honest. Talk to your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing, when and how often, keeping in mind that it is difficult to diagnose lactose intolerance based on symptoms alone. Serious digestive symptoms can also be caused by small bowel bacterial overgrowth, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.

3. Physical Exam

A physical exam will help to rule out other conditions and diagnose lactose intolerance. The health care professional will typically first check for bloating of the abdomen, then listen to the abdomen with a stethoscope. He or she will try a series of tapping on the abdomen to elicit signs of pain or tenderness. Their advice may be to cut out milk and dairy products for a small period of time to see if the symptoms go away. If those symptoms do in fact subside in the absence of milk and milk products, then the health care provider should be able to confirm the diagnosis.

4. Medical Tests

There are two medical tests that can determine if lactose digestion is happening properly. Your doctor may order one or both to get more information.

  • Hydrogen Breath TestNormal digestion of lactose will only produce a small bit of hydrogen detectable in the breath, whereas undigested lactose produces much higher levels of hydrogen. In this test, you will drink a beverage with lactose and then breathe into a container with a balloon apparatus that can measure the level of hydrogen. You will be advised by your doctor on what foods to avoid prior to the test so as not to affect the accuracy of the test.
  • Stool Acidity TestLactic acid and other acids will be present in stool that contains undigested lactose. This test is often performed on infants and small children to check the acidity of their stool, as children may also have glucose in their stool due to lactose that has not been digested. This test is performed by collecting a stool sample and sending it to a lab where it can be analyzed.

So now you know how to find the answer to the question of ‘am I lactose intolerant?’, if unfortunately, you are, you may be wondering whether you should stay away from milk products totally.

Can I Have Milk If I’m Lactose Intolerant?

Yes, if you are lactose intolerant, you can still have milk and milk products.

It is common for people who are lactose intolerant to be able to handle small amounts of lactose, and should not need to completely go off the cow. Everybody is different and the ability to digest lactose can certainly vary.

How Is Lactose Intolerance Managed?

  • Change Your Diet: You may need to limit your lactose intake, or avoid it altogether. Lactase products are great for people who want to enjoy milk and dairy products.
  • Enjoy Your Lactose with a Meal: Your digestive system will slow down when you consume a mix of foods, which can lessen the chances or severity of symptoms.
  • Lactose-Free Milk: Most supermarkets will carry lactose-free milk. Or you can add lactase enzymes to normal milk. This will reduce the lactose by 70-90%. These enzymes are great because you can still benefit from the nutrients of regular milk.
  • Lactase Enzyme Tablets: You can take these before eating to help your body digest lactose.It’s important to make sure you are feeding your body enough calcium. Other great non-dairy sources of calcium include kale, broccoli, collard greens, orange and grapefruit juice, soy milk, and tofu.
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