What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a medical issue that affects persons of all ages and sizes. It is often referred to as an allergy to milk, but in fact, is the body’s inability to digest lactose.

What is lactose?

Lactose is the sugar that is found in milk and dairy. It is comprised of two simple sugars known as glucose and galactose.

How is lactose broken down by the body?

The human body typically produces an enzyme known as lactase, which breaks down lactose into simpler sugars (glucose and galactose). It lines the cells of the small intestine and allows absorption of these sugars.

For persons who are lactose intolerant, their body lacks the lactase enzyme, therefore; it is difficult for the body to break down lactose into glucose and galactose for absorption. Instead, lactose is broken down by bacteria in the colon, which results in various gastric issues.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance include:

  • Cramps
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea (When water is drawn into the colon)

There are different foods which are high in lactose, that when ingested, produce the aforementioned symptoms. Some of these foods are:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice-Cream
  • Butter
  • Some breads and baked goods

How To Handle Being Lactose Intolerant

Being lactose intolerant is far from easy, there are varying levels, and persons whose intolerance are very severe, may have to give up dairy entirely. On the other hand, if the intolerance is not as acute, relinquishing pleasures such as Devon House Ice-Cream may not be necessary.

  • Taking lactose enzyme supplements before consuming foods high in lactose, a person can take the supplement in order to have the enzyme present during digestion. This allows for the breaking down of the sugar for absorption.
  • Consuming small portions of foods high in lactose, reduces the amount of lactose that needs to be broken down. In addition, accompanying these foods with food that are high in fat will slow down digestion, further allowing the lactase more time to break down the lactose.
  • Having lactose free foods such as soy or almond beverages, prevents the symptoms all together.
  • Having foods low in lactose such as yogurt or hard cheeses (Swiss, Parmesan) will also reduce the chances of these symptoms.

So, fear not; Lactose Intolerance is not the end of the world. It solely suggests a change in diet, in order to prevent these digestive issues. For more information, speak to a medical professional about the best way forward, living with a lactose intolerance.

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Written by Rhea Braithwaite, student of Campion College.  Edited by Kaeonna Walters.  This post appears courtesy of the Do Good Jamaica Professional Pathways high school internship program.