Milk is full of nutrition – it contains proteins, carbohydrates and a lot of calcium. No wonder most parents make sure that their kid drinks a glass of milk every morning. But there are many young children as well as adults who are allergic to milk and milk products. By this, we mean that their body cannot easily digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk products. Such individuals are lactose intolerant.
What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is a condition in which people have digestive problems such as diarrhea, a feeling of fullness or swelling in the abdomen, after eating or drinking milk or milk products. Lactose intolerance is due to variation in the gene which is responsible for the breakdown of lactose present in milk. It occurs when the small intestine does not make enough of an enzyme called lactase.
Our body needs lactase [Ref] to break down or to digest lactose. Some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance are:
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Belching or burping
These symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after you eat or drink milk products. If you feel unwell after drinking a glass of milk one time, you probably do not have lactose intolerance. But if you feel sick every time you have milk or any other milk product such as ice cream, you may have lactose intolerance. In fact, sometimes people who have never had problems with milk or milk products suddenly have lactose intolerance. This is more common as you get older.
What Causes Lactose Intolerance?
The ability to digest milk or milk products is inherited from our parents. All babies drink milk, but after they’re weaned, some lose the ability to drink milk without feeling ill. This is known as lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is a recessive disorder. For a recessive disorder to show, both copies of the gene, called alleles, have to be identical. Individuals who have a cytosine (C) residue on both alleles close to the lactase gene do not produce lactase in adulthood and are lactose intolerant.
Lactose Intolerance in Infants
Lactose intolerance in infants, known as congenital lactase deficiency, is caused by mutations in the LCT gene. The LCT gene provides instructions for making the lactase enzyme. Mutations that cause congenital lactase deficiency [Ref] are believed to interfere with the function of lactase, causing affected infants to have a severely impaired ability to digest lactose in breast milk.
Lactose Intolerance in Adults
Lactose intolerance in adults is caused by gradually decreasing activity (expression) of the LCT gene after infancy, which occurs in most humans. The LCT gene expression is controlled by a DNA sequence called a regulatory element, which is located within a nearby gene called MCM6.
Some individuals have inherited changes in this element that lead to sustained lactase production in the small intestine and the ability to digest lactose throughout life. People without these changes have a reduced ability to digest lactose as they grow older, resulting in the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
A test for lactose intolerance is needed to help doctors diagnose and treat such individuals. If a person has lactose intolerance, they could avoid milk and milk products, to see if this helps symptoms, or explore some biotechnological solutions.
What is Lactose Intolerance Test?
Lactose support panel is a simple gene test which can accurately predict the presence of lactose intolerance. With proper dietary intervention, this condition can be easily managed. This test is beneficial in knowing how much of milk intake is okay for an individual. It’s a two-minute saliva test and it is non-invasive. We send your saliva sample to the pathology lab where an in-depth analysis is done. Accordingly, a detailed report pertaining to the link between your diet and gene is provided. Visit Health Total center to know more about gene testing.
Are You at a Risk?
Factors that can make you or your child more prone to lactose intolerance include:
- Increasing age: Lactose intolerance usually appears in adulthood. The condition is rare in infants and young children.
- Ethnicity: Lactose intolerance is most common in people of African, Asian, Hispanic, American and Indian descent.
- Premature birth: Premature children may have reduced levels of lactase because the small intestine doesn’t develop lactase-producing cells until late in the third trimester.
- Diseases affecting the small intestine: Small intestine problems that can cause lactose intolerance include bacterial overgrowth, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease [Ref].
- Certain cancer treatments: If you have received radiation therapy for cancer in your abdomen or have intestinal complications from chemotherapy, you have an increased risk of lactose intolerance.
How to Treat Lactose Intolerance?
There is no cure for lactose intolerance, however, you can control it by avoiding large servings of milk and milk products. Include small portions of dairy products in your regular meals. The same should apply to ice creams. Eat lactose-reduced ice cream.
We Help You Deal With Lactose Intolerance
Milk and Milk Products
Gradually introducing small amounts of milk or milk products may help some people adapt to them with fewer symptoms. Often, people can better tolerate milk or milk products by having them with meals, such as having milk with cereal or having cheese with crackers. People with lactose intolerance are generally more likely to tolerate hard cheeses, such as cheddar or Swiss, than a glass of milk.
Many foods can provide calcium and other nutrients the body needs. Non-milk products high in calcium include fish with soft bones, such as canned salmon and sardines, and dark green vegetables, such as spinach. Manufacturers may also add calcium to fortified breakfast cereals, fruit juices, and soy beverage—also called soy milk. Many fortified foods are also excellent sources of Vitamin D and other essential nutrients, in addition to calcium.
A study [Ref] suggests that probiotic supplementation can help fight the symptoms of lactose intolerance. Probiotic supplements can compensate for lactase insufficiency by the hydrolysis of lactose in the milk product and in the small intestine at the level of colonic fermentation. The hydrolytic capacity of probiotic strains can be used to reduce the actual amount of lactose in the product, as it occurs in yogurt. It can also be used to increase the overall hydrolytic capacity in the small intestine.
Uncover Hidden Sources of Lactose
It’s important to keep an eye out for foods containing “hidden” lactose as part of their overall ingredients such as bread, baked goods, processed cereals, instant potatoes, soups, creamy sauces, pancake, and powdered meal replacements. You must read food labels carefully to avoid these ingredients:
- Milk by-products
- Dry milk solids
- Non-fat dry milk
Interestingly, a majority of Indians are lactose intolerant. According to a study by Sanjay Gandhi Institute, Lucknow, about 66% of North Indians and 88% of South Indians cannot metabolize lactose. Indians are genetically diverse across the geography of the country. So if one is adapted to breaking down fiber grown in the native environment, they may extend that capability to fibers that are not grown natively.
This means if you can digest oats, you may be able to digest Ragi too. However, we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to nutrigenomics and a lot of interesting discoveries are yet to be made.