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Are you Lactose Intolerant?

By Charles Hopkins Published 11/27/2007 | Fitness
If you suffer from nausea, cramps, bloating, gas, or diarrhea after drinking milk or eating dairy products, you may be lactose intolerant. This is a common reaction. According to some reports, between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant.

Lactose is the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. The small intestine produces an enzyme called lactase whose job it is to break lactose down into two simple sugars called glucose and galactose. The glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream for nourishment. If your body does not produce enough lactase, the unaltered lactose makes its way into the large intestine and begins to ferment, producing acids and gases.


Some think that they are allergic to milk when they have these symptoms. Usually this is not the case. Food allergies are rare. According to some experts, only 1 to 2 percent of the general population is affected by a true food allergy.

What is the difference?

Though the symptoms are similar, there are differences. With an allergy, the immune system produces a "histamine" to fight against foods you have ingested to which you are allergic. Some symptoms may be swelling of the lips or tongue, hives (rash), or asthma. Lactose intolerance will not cause these symptoms because the immune system is not involved. Lactose intolerance is the body's inability to assimilate a food properly, causing a reaction.

How can help you tell the difference?

If it is a real food allergy, the reaction will occur within minutes of ingesting the food that you are sensitive to. If the symptoms do not occur for an hour or more, it is most likely lactose intolerance.


These foods may also contain lactose and could cause symptoms:

Bread and bread products
Cakes and cookies
Instant potatoes
Some prescription drugs
Some over-the-counter medicines
Pre-mixed foods for pancakes, biscuits, and cookies
Processed breakfast cereals
Salad dressings
Lunch meats


At this time, there is no treatment that can cure the problem, but you can prevent some of the symptoms by ingesting a food enzyme dietary supplement just before taking your first bite of food. These contain lactase to assist the intestines in converting lactose. Products come in pill or liquid form. You can also take probiotics (opposite of antibiotics)on a regular basis. These help produce "good bacteria" in the body, promote good digestion and reduce the reaction your body may have to foods containing lactose.

Through trial and error, you may be able to determine which foods or what amount of foods cause you the most discomfort. By being observant of your body's reaction, you will find that you know how much you can or cannot digest.

You may have to cut out dairy products altogether. You should, however, find other sources of calcium that has been supplied through the dairy products. Certain green vegetables and some kinds of fish and nuts are high in calcium.

Lactose intolerance is not life threatening, just uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing. Managing lactose intolerance can be challenging, but possible. Be observant of what you eat and take preventative measures once you determine what foods cause you the most problems. Then you should find that you are symptom free and can enjoy most of the foods you love, always in moderation of course. If your symptoms persist, there may be something more serious that requires a visit to your physician. Learn to read your body and know when you need to make adjustments in your diet and nutrition.