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What is Lactose Intolerance?

What is Lactose Intolerance?

Submitted by: Kya Grace

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person is unable to assimilate lactose, a sugar present in milk and milk products. A lack of the enzyme lactase (involved in the digestion of lactose) brings about this condition. Lactose intolerance makes it difficult for the person to consume dairy products. It occurs for a variety of reasons, the most common being the slowing of lactase production by the body.

Types of Lactose Intolerance

1) Congenital Lactase Deficiency: This condition is genetic. It prevents the production of lactase in the body. It is present from birth and is usually diagnosed during early infancy. It is reasonably rare compared to the other two types.

2) Primary Lactose Intolerance: This is the most common type of lactose intolerance. It manifests due to the slowing of lactase production. It is common in adults, as the rate of enzyme production declines with age. It can also arise in prematurely born babies.

3) Secondary Lactose Intolerance: This type of intolerance comes about due to an intestinal disease or injury. It can be temporary or permanent. For example, the disease Gastroenteritis often causes temporary lactose intolerance.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance usually results in a rejection of milk products by the body. Depending on the degree of intolerance and the amount consumed, the symptoms can be mild to severe. They include abdominal pain & bloating, gas, diarrhoea and nausea.

Diagnosis of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance can’t be diagnosed on the basis of symptoms alone as other digestion related afflictions also produce the same symptoms. Two tests are commonly used for this purpose.

• Hydrogen Breath test: A person drinks a fluid containing a large amount of lactose. If it is not being digested, a large amount of hydrogen will be present in the person’s breath.

• Stool Acidity test: This is used on younger patients. The amount of acid in the stools is measured, indicating the state of lactose digestion. Acidic stools generally indicate lactose intolerance.

Avoiding Lactose

Lactose intolerance can be a troublesome condition in societies that consume large amounts of dairy products. There is no medical solution to induce lactase production in the body, although many people report that their degree of intolerance varies with time.

The most basic solution is to avoid products containing lactose. It is present in all milk based products, including:

• Milk (this includes human milk and bovine milk)
• Butter
• Yogurt
• Cheese
• Sour Cream

Non dairy products also contain some amounts of lactose. It is used as an additive in processed foods for its flavour, texture and adhesive qualities. These products include baked goods (like bread and cake), waffles & pancakes, potato chips, processed meats, salad dressings and breakfast cereals.

Prescription medicines including birth control pills and medicines to treat stomach acid might also contain lactose. However it is usually a small amount, and will only affect people with severe lactose intolerance.


Plant based milks are a good substitute for animal based milks. They are lactose free and are recommended by doctors. Soy milk and almond milk are the most popular. Low lactose dairy products have also been developed for people with such a condition.

Enzymatic lactase supplements can also be used if the intake of lactose containing products is unavoidable.

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