What is it?
Lactose intolerance is a disorder of the digestive system that occurs when the body is not able to break down a sugar molecule in cow milk called lactose. It it a food intolerance, not a food allergy. Lactose is an important part of an infant’s diet as it provides up to half of its energy needs, but is of unclear importance in adults. Because of lactose’s sweet properties, it is used in a variety of food products that you might not expect, such as candy, bread, and sausages. It is a common disorder that has strong genetic ties, affecting about 80% of black Americans, 50% of
Mexican Americans and 15% of whites. In some Asian countries, almost 100% of the population is affected by the disorder, while in Scandinavia the rate is only 2%. Occasionally, individuals will develop lactose intolerance after certain types of infections, such as a rotavirus infection. Here, the lactose intolerance is temporary, and resolves once the infection is cleared by the immune system.
What are the Symptoms?
The typical symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdominal bloating, abdominal pain or cramping, passing gas (flatulence), and fould smelling loose stools or diarrhea. Symptoms usually develop in early childhood in blacks and Asians while in whites they occur in later childhood or adolescence. Some people will develop symptoms quickly after eating small amounts of milk containing foods, while others may tolerate larger amounts before having problems. In general, women describe worse symptoms than men. Overall, most individuals can tolerate ½ to 1 cup (4-8 ounces) of milk if
eaten with other foods.
What Can I do?
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