Understanding Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

Understanding Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

Lactase is an enzyme that is synthesized in the small intestine. It is essential to digest the sugars found in dairy products, called “lactose”. Many adults develop an intolerance to lactose, and can’t digest milk without painful abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting after ingesting any dairy products. 

Who Is At Risk For Lactose Intolerance

An estimated 65% of all humans on Earth are unable to digest milk, however, the number might reflect malabsorption problems as well as a true intolerance reflected by that number. The NIH estimates that up to 50 million people in the United States alone have a milk intolerance of some kind. 

There are certain ethnicities that are more likely to have an intolerance to lactose than others in North America. Asians are the most likely, with approximately 90% unable to digest lactose. Native Americans are 80% intolerant to lactose. Those with African heritage and people of Jewish ancestry are 70-75% likely to lack the enzyme to digest milk sugars. Next most likely is Latin American cultures, with a 60% chance. Caucasians only have a 10-20% chance of being unable to tolerate milk sugar without an adverse reaction. 

A certain percentage of all people are born with the inability to digest milk, however, many develop an intolerance to milk products after adulthood. There is a difference between intolerance to lactose and malabsorption.  Low levels of the lactase enzyme cause malabsorption. Therefore, depending on how low lactase levels are, the symptoms of malabsorption will vary from case to case. Intolerance, on the other hand, is defined as a complete inability to ingest milk or milk products without adverse effects.

There are several tests to determine what type of problem is causing adverse symptoms after the ingestion of milk or milk products. 

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

Those with lactose intolerance or malabsorption will suffer from varying levels of gastrointestinal distress after drinking or eating dairy. Bloating, nausea, vomiting, excessive flatus, and diarrhea stools will usually occur after milk products are ingested without any kind of supplemental enzyme treatment within an hour or two. How long do lactose intolerance symptoms last? Depending on how much was eaten or drank, symptoms might last up to two full days after the onset. 

Some people might have less discomfort or fewer symptoms with certain things. For instance, certain types of milk, such as goat’s milk, seem to cause less distress than cow’s milk in a lot of cases. Although symptoms might be less, there will always be some kind of symptom of intolerance. 

How To Enjoy Life With Lactose Intolerance

Instead of giving up all dairy cold-turkey, some suggest removing certain items that cause severe GI distress entirely and try to incorporate those few items that cause less intense problems occasionally, while supplementing with oral lactase enzyme supplements to lessen symptoms. It’s important to get enough calcium in the diet, especially for women who are at risk for osteoporosis. 

By eating lots of foods rich in calcium, it is possible to get enough calcium without using dairy. The growing number of milk substitutes like almond, soy, and hemp milk are making it easier to live without milk if it is something that you thought you once could not live without.

A recently discovered fatty acid that is found to be potentially crucial to neurological health, as well as cellular health is called C15:0. It might be difficult to get enough of this fatty acid if dairy is not an option, so getting a supplement of this fatty acid is a great idea, as studies continue to show the importance of the nutrient in our diets.