No need to suffer with lactose intolerance
Do you experience cramps, intestinal gas and bloating, or
diarrhea after eating dairy products? Those annoying gastrointestinal
symptoms could be a clue that you're "lactose intolerant."
The condition is caused by having low levels of lactase, the
enzyme that digests the sugar in milk products. An estimated
30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, including
a majority of African-Americans, AsianAmericans, and many Latinos.
Lactose intolerance is not the same as milk protein allergy.
Milk allergy symptoms include skin rashes, hives, watery eyes
and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis, with swollen throat tissues
that impede breathing.
Making a diagnosis
The classic symptoms of lactose intolerance appear 30 minutes
to two hours after eating dairy products, and vary in intensity
depending on the individual and the amount of food consumed.
Because the symptoms are similar to other gastrointestinal
problems (such as irritable bowel syndrome), making a precise
diagnosis can be tricky. But you can undergo a simple hydrogen
breath test that allows doctors to pinpoint the problem.
"The test measures the amount of hydrogen gas produced
by the fermentation of lactose by bacteria in the colon,"
explains Jaime Aranda-Michel, MD, assistant professor of medicine
in the Division of Digestive Diseases at the University of Cincinnati.
Part of the hydrogen produced by the fermentation of undigested
lactose is absorbed into the blood and exhaled.
The test involves measuring baseline hydrogen after an overnight
fast, and again at regular intervals after you're given 50 grams
of lactose (equivalent to a quart of milk). You simply breathe
into a special plastic collection bag, and hydrogen levels are
Don't dump the dairy
A positive test doesn't automatically mean milk and other
dairy products must be eliminated from the diet. Many dairy products
contain less lactose, and may provoke fewer symptoms (see chart).
Giving up dairy entirely can lead to low levels of calcium,
vitamins A and D, phosphorus and protein, increasing the risk
of osteoporosis and hypertension.
Some products contain lactase and help convert lactose into
easily digested sugars. You can choose from drops that you add
to food, capsules or chewables taken before eating dairy products,
and lactose-free milks. These products include Lactaid, Dairy
Ease, Dairy Relief, and NutriMil. Among the milk products are
Parmalat, Borden Plus, and Lactaid. All are rich in calcium;
each eight-ounce glass of Lactaid fat-free milk contains 500
milligrams (mg) of calcium.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you have Lactose Intolerance:
Make sure you get enough calcium from non-dairy sources.
Eat foods containing less lactose.
Try products containing lactase that aid dairy digestion.
If symptoms persist despite dietary precautions, see your
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