Lactose Intolerance

What is lactose intolerance?
If you are lactose intolerant, your body cannot digest lactose, the sugar in dairy products.

What causes lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is caused by either a deficiency of lactase in the body or a lack of it. Lactase is the enzyme needed to break down lactose into smaller components for digestion.
If your intestine is deficient in lactase, your gut bacteria break down the lactose, generally giving off hydrogen as a bi-product.  This can cause bloating, cramps, and diarrhea.  Lactose is the most sensitive enzyme on the intestinal surface.  It can be shed with an event as simple as a viral infection and may never recover.  Thus, a person can be lactose tolerant one day and intolerant over the next few weeks or months.  In rare cases, Lactose Intolerance can occur permanently. Approximately 60% of Caucasian adults and 90% of African American adults are lactose intolerant.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
Symptoms of lactose intolerance vary with the degree of lactase deficiency. A very mild deficiency may not cause any symptoms, but a greater deficiency can lead to bloating, loose stools, and crampy abdominal pain.

How is lactose intolerance diagnosed?
The first step is to eliminate cow’s milk from your diet to see if the symptoms go away. If symptoms persist, several diagnostic tests can determine lactose intolerance.

  • Lactose intolerance test: Involves fasting followed by drinking a lactose-containing liquid. Blood samples are taken to measure glucose levels.
  • Hydrogen breath test: A lactose beverage is given, and after digesting it, hydrogen levels are tested, which indicates improper digestion of lactose.
  • Stool acidity test: Measures the amount of acid in the stool.