Cutting Through the Jargon

In today’s society when it comes to nutrition, there’s always the next trend or a scaremongering headline. This information can often seem confusing, scary and outright bewildering. In this article, you’ll learn about what lactose intolerance is, how to recognise the symptoms, and how it can affect your life.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to fully digest the sugar found naturally in milk, known as lactose. Lactose comprises of two single sugar molecules; glucose and galactose. Between one and two out of ten older children and adults in the UK are considered to have lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of or a limit of lactase. Lactase is the enzyme released in the small bowel which is required to breakdown lactose. In some people lactase production slows down after the age of two. As a result, this can lead to lactose intolerance. For others who continue to produce lactase they can fully digest and absorb lactose.

Lactose intolerance is often confused with a dairy allergy. The difference being an allergy is an immune response to the dairy protein whereas lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the milk sugars.

There are two main causes for the onset of lactose intolerance. The first being primary lactose intolerance. This is where the production of lactase slows to around 10-30% throughout childhood and early adulthood. The second cause is known as secondary lactose intolerance. In this case, lactase deficiency appears as a result of Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), coeliac disease, malnutrition or other gut related disorders. It is possible to recover from secondary lactose intolerance following a professional prescribed treatment plan.

Recognising the symptoms of lactose intolerance can sometimes be challenging due to the similarities with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Symptoms can include; bloating, flatulence, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Due to these similarities it’s not recommended to self- diagnose as a wrong diagnosis may increase the risk of compromised health. It’s recommended to seek advice from your GP for a lactose intolerance diagnosis. If an individual is suspected to have lactose intolerance they may be asked to omit lactose for a few weeks. Alternatively, the GP may offer a hydrogen breath test. In such cases, the individual would be asked to drink a lactose solution before the breath test which will be able to identify hydrogen levels produced by the gut. Hydrogen levels above 20ppm of your baseline is the cut off for diagnosing lactose intolerance. In some cases, a blood test may be required too.

Initially, a lactose intolerance diagnosis can seem daunting although it needn’t be. Some individuals can tolerate a small amount of lactose from milk, yoghurt and hard cheeses. Tolerance levels are unique to the individual and so it’s important to test the waters. For those who are particularly sensitive they will need to be aware of baked products and processed foods which may contain ingredients derived from milk. Finding the tolerance level is essential for living with lactose intolerance in order to manage overall intakes of dairy products. Milkaid can also be used in order to help manage symptoms and increase tolerance levels. Milkaid contains lactase enzyme and is recommended to consume before eating dairy based products. Milkaid will enable the breakdown of lactose in order to allow for the consumption of dairy for optimal health and lifestyle.

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