If you’ve ever known someone who suffers from lactose intolerance you’re probably familiar with the painful side effects dairy can have on the body. Most people exhibit some intolerance to dairy products, so odds are you’re lactose intolerant to some degree. Here’s a look at the causes, symptoms, and possible cures for lactose intolerance.
Lactose Intolerance Symptoms
Lactose intolerance symptoms include abdominal bloating, cramps, flatulence (gas), diarrhea, nausea, rumbling stomach, and/or vomiting. These symptoms can be anywhere from mild to severe, but are generally unpleasant.
What Causes Lactose Intolerance?
Most people know the symptoms of lactose intolerance, but what causes lactose intolerance is less known. These symptoms are brought on because the gut isn’t able to break down one of milk’s primary sugars, lactose.
Lactose is made up of glucose and galactose. These two sugars form together to make up 2-8% of milk’s weight. Lactose intolerance is the result of the body not having enough lactase. Lactase is a digestive enzyme that breaks lactose into its two separate parts.
Lactose intolerance is completely different from a milk allergy. With a milk allergy your body can absorb and break up the milk, but the body has an allergic response to the dairy proteins. This can be very serious and life-threatening. Lactose intolerance just means your body can’t break down and use the sugar in milk properly, resulting in an upset gut. Lactose intolerance’s effects are gut related, while a milk allergy will affect the entire body. Lactose intolerance is also far more common than an actual milk allergy.
Considering how common lactose intolerance is, it leads you to question if dairy is actually good for us.
The truth is we were not meant to drink milk after infancy. The natural bodily response is to produce lactase as an infant, and then to stop producing lactase as we mature. This is because in the wild there is no reason to drink milk once weaned off the mother. This is called lactose non-persistence.
However, as humans began to consume non-human milk after infancy, we mutated to continue producing lactase into adulthood. This is called lactase persistence. This is not the norm.
Most people are lactose intolerant to some degree because it is not a normal bodily response to continue to produce high levels of lactase.
Cures for Lactose Intolerance
So are there cures for lactose intolerance? Yes and no. It isn’t natural for your body to produce high levels of lactase into adulthood, but there are ways to be able to consume dairy products without lactose intolerance symptoms.
The easiest “cure” for lactose intolerance is to take a lactase supplement. That’s right, you can supplement your diet with the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose. Taking a lactase supplement before eating dairy will allow the body to break down and process the lactose and will keep your gut happy. The supplement dosage will depend on how much dairy you’re consuming.
Kefir may be a good dairy choice for lactose intolerant individuals. Kefir turns lactose into lactic acid, which is easier for the body to digest. It has also been shown to help with lactose digestion and may be a potential cure for lactose intolerance.
Some studies show that a continued lactose-rich diet improved dairy digestion. These studies show colonic adaptation, and the prevalent presence of lactose can increase the output of lactase. However, this could be dangerous or unpleasant depending on the severity of lactose intolerance.
The best option for lactase non-persistent individuals is to avoid dairy when possible, and to consider taking a lactase supplement when they do ingest dairy. While dairy may be tasty, it isn’t needed to live.
Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. Please consult with a doctor before adding/changing your dosage of any supplement in your diet. Take any supplements at your own risk.