Lactose intolerance is a condition that occurs when the small intestine doesn’t make enough of the enzyme called lactase, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).
The enzyme is needed to digest lactose, which is a type of sugar found naturally in milk and other types of dairy products, according to the NIH.
Lactase is able to break down the milk sugar into two simpler kinds of sugar that can be absorbed into the bloodstream, according to the Food and Drug AdministrationOff Site Icon (FDA).
Lactose Intolerance is a condition that occurs when the body cannot digest or absorb lactose (a type of sugar) that is commonly found in milk and other dairy products, because it lacks the enzyme lactase
Consumption of products containing lactose would result in the signs and symptoms of Lactose Intolerance, which includes bloating and abdominal cramps. Severe and untreated Lactose Intolerance may lead to complications such as osteopenia and osteoporosis
The condition is caused when the body cannot produce an enzyme to breakdown the milk sugars. A few risk factors for Lactose Intolerance include advancing age, certain racial groups, certain health conditions, and cancer treatment
There is no cure for Lactose Intolerance, but its symptoms can be adequately controlled. Individuals who avoid dairy products from their diets have a favorable outcome
Lactose is the sugar found in milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. After eating dairy products that contain this sugar, usually lactase, a digestive enzyme of the small intestine, helps to breakdown this complex sugar into two simple sugars, glucose and galactose. These simple sugars are then absorbed in the small intestine and ultimately reach the blood stream where they act as nutrients. The enzyme lactase is located in the lining of the small intestine known as the intestinal villi.
In addition to milk and dairy products such as ice cream, yogurt and cheese, lactose can be found in bread and baked goods, processed breakfast cereals, instant potatoes, some soups and non-kosher lunch meats, candies, dressings and mixes for pancakes and biscuits. Lactose is also the sugar found in breast milk and standard infant formulas. Therefore almost all babies are able to digest and absorb this sugar and it serves as their primary dietary sugar.
Because lactose is not digested properly in the small intestine of individuals who are lactose intolerant, it passes whole into the large intestine or colon. Upon reaching the colon it is broken down by the normal colon bacteria. This breakdown results in the production of carbon dioxide and hydrogen gases. The gas production can lead to the following common symptoms:
Abdominal distension and pain
Loud bowel sounds
Excess gas and diarrhea following ingestion of lactose.
Watery and explosive bowel movements
Urgency with bowel movements, which means that children feel that they have to get to the bathroom immediately or they will have an accident.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance can start during childhood or adolescence and tend to get worse with age. The severity of symptoms is usually proportional to the amount of the milk sugar ingested with more symptoms following a meal with higher milk sugar content.
Although eating lactose-containing products will result in discomfort for someone who is lactose intolerant, they are not at risk of developing more serious intestinal disease because of long-term lactose malabsorption. The only exception to this would be for babies who are born with primary lactase deficiency or children with secondary lactase deficiency as discussed below.