Lactose Intolerance Test

Dairy products like milk, cheese, etc. are processed in the body by an enzyme called lactase. The lactase breaks down the lactose, which is a type of natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products, during the process of digestion.

Not all people have the optimum levels of lactase in their bodies to effectively digest the lactose consumed. This causes undigested lactose to remain in the intestines and ferment. Some of the symptoms produced by undigested lactose in the intestines are nausea, abdominal cramps, etc.This medical condition can be diagnosed by various types of lactose intolerance test.

Self-Diagnosing Lactose Intolerance: Elimination Diet

Most people who suspect they’re lactose intolerant usually self-diagnose by the process of elimination.This involves cutting out all milk and dairy products. It is commonly known as an elimination diet. It is a strict diet where all products, even those containing derivatives of dairy are eliminated. You may require assistance from a dietician or a guide to steer you in the right direction.

The duration of this elimination diet should be long enough to check if your symptoms have resolved or not, without a doubt. This is especially important if your normal symptoms fluctuate over a given period.

For a guide to an elimination diet, click HERE

Lactose Intolerance Test

If self-diagnosing is not a successful option, your medical practitioner can order some tests to confirm lactose intolerance. This can definitively diagnose lactose intolerance or exclude it, in which case other avenues for your symptoms can be investigated.

When Is a Test Ordered?

Your doctor will order this test when you present with the classical symptoms of:

  • Flatulence-passing excessive gas
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal bloating and pain

Types of Tests

  1. Hydrogen breath test

This test is used most commonly. Your normal breath will be taken and tested for levels of hydrogen. This forms your baseline reading against which comparisons will be made.

You will be given a solution to drink that contains lactose. Thereafter, you will be asked to blow into an instrument that measures the levels of hydrogen in your breath. Higher than normal levels of hydrogen indicate a positive result for lactose intolerance.

  1. Lactose tolerance test

Once again, you are given a lactose-containing solution to drink. A blood sample is taken after 2 hours to measure your blood glucose levels. A glucose level that doesn’t increase means that the lactose is not being processed by your body. This is also a positive result for lactose intolerance.

However, people with diabetes may produce a false negative result because the blood glucose level may increase even though there is insufficient lactase, and they are in fact lactose intolerant.

  1. Stool acidity test

This test is commonly used to diagnose young children because the two methods above are not suitable. It involves testing for lactic acid in the stools. Lactic acid is formed by fermenting lactose in the bowels. High levels of lactic acid in the stools indicate lactose is not being processed optimally.

There are a few points to remember when interpreting the results of lactose intolerance tests:

  • Normal gut bacteria can be reduced if antibiotics were taken within the previous month or 2. This may yield a false negative result in the hydrogen breath test.
  • Overgrowth of gut bacteriacan mimic symptoms of lactose intolerance.
  • Faster than normal digestion indicates lactose intolerance because the body has less time to process the lactose.

How to Manage Lactose Intolerance

There are very few instances where people have such severe lactose intolerance that they have to totally eliminate lactose from their diet, even from medicines that contain lactose as filler. Most people quickly figure out the quantity of lactose they can consume safely without experiencing any of the symptoms.

If you have taken the lactose intolerance test and got a positive result, here are some tips to follow:

  • Keep a healthy diet: especially get enough calcium and vitamin D into your diet. Consider other sources of calcium like spinach, broccoli and pinto beans. Natural sources of vitamin D are liver and eggs. Your body also produces vitamin D from sunlight. Your doctor may prescribe calcium and vitamin D supplements if your intake is inadequate.
  • Control your dairy product intake: use lactose-reduced products or consume milk with other foods to slow down digestion, which may decrease your symptoms. Use dairy products with reduced lactose, like hard cheeses or yoghurt.
  • Take a lactase enzyme replacement: these are available over-the-counter in pills, drops or capsules. Take the advised dosage with your first drink or bite of dairy to help prevent lactose intolerance symptoms. The drops may be added to milk. Whilst not everyone with lactose intolerance finds relief with these products, it is worth a try to minimise the symptoms.
  • Limit your serving portion of dairy to smaller-than-normal to minimise the intestinal discomfort.
  • Take probiotics: these are commercially available in capsule form or in yoghurts as “live” cultures. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that can help with the digestion of lactose.
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