Do you wonder why you have trouble drinking milk or eating ice cream while other people don’t? Do you get symptoms like cramps, gas, bloating or nausea? There’s a high probability you have lactose intolerance, which means you cannot digest lactose (the type of sugar found in milk and some other dairy products).
Is Lactose Intolerance Normal?
Until the 1960′s the medical community presumed lactose tolerance was normal and intolerance was due to an allergy, intestinal problem or simply imagined. Subsequent research has revealed that on a global scale intolerance is the norm and tolerance is more of a genetic adaptation found in European cultures. Intolerance is as high as 90% in some African and Asian countries.
Cheese is generally more digestible than milk because the fermentation process and fats reduce the lactose levels greatly in comparison to the levels found in milk. Lowfat milk can actually have more lactose in it than regular milk, whereas nutmilks have no lactose at all.
Why can babies drink milk then?
Lactose (the sugar in milk) is:
- a major energy store for the newborn
- is broken down to the simplest sugar – glucose
- is only produced in the mammary glands (breasts)
- pulls water into the mammary glands to produce milk (lactose being the major osmole in milk)
Newborns have the enzyme lactase in their small intestine, which will break lactose down into glucose and galactose (which is then converted into more glucose).
Most mammals normally cease to produce lactase, becoming lactose intolerant, after weaning, but some human populations have developed lactase persistence in which lactase production continues into adulthood. It is estimated that 75% of adults worldwide show some decrease in lactase activity during adulthood. The frequency of decreased lactase activity ranges from 5% in northern Europe to 90% in Asia and Africa.
Primary lactose intolerance is a normal result of aging. Secondary lactose intolerance can occur as a result of intestinal disease, injury or surgery.
How to test for lactose intolerance?
A person fasts overnight and then drinks a glass of milk in the morning. Nothing further is eaten or drunk for 3-5 hours. If a person is lactose intolerant, the milk should produce symptoms within several hours of ingestion.
After an overnight fast, 25 grams of pure lactose is ingested with water. Persons who are lactose intolerant do not break the lactose down in their small intestine, and the lactose creates hydrogen and methane in the colon which is transported to the lungs and exhaled. Diagnostic equipment can measure the hydrogen and tell how much lactose was not digested determining the level of lactose intolerance.
Stool Acidity Test
For infants and young children, unabsorbed lactose enters the colon, and is broken down by bacteria into lactic acid. Therefore, a lactase deficient person will develop an acidic stool.
Humans are not meant to consume milk products past the weaning stage. By nature’s design, breast milk and the milk sugar lactose are the way for mother to pass on energy giving glucose and other important nutrients to baby through the breast feeding process. Once baby starts eating solid food, the lactose digesting enzyme, lactase, is no longer needed, and thus begins to decrease in the maturing individual.
If you have trouble with digesting lactose, make (or look for) lactose free, natural products like almond milk and other plant based milks. Ice cream lovers can now find coconut milk based ice creams. There are vegan “cheese” products on the market as well, but we endorse only the most natural and organic products. Live Live & Organic, located in the East Village, NYC is a great source for the absolute highest quality vegan snacks and products, and they deliver worldwide.
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