Lactose intolerance: everyone hast their limit

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The natural reaction for most people who are diagnosed as being lactose intolerant or think that they are lactose intolerant is to exclude all dairy products from their diet. But with this, they risk depriving themselves of essential nutrients provided by dairy products, such as calcium. Too little calcium can have a detrimental effect on bones in children or the elderly. However, most people with a lactose intolerance do not need to exclude dairy products from their diet. Soignon will explain why.

What is lactose?

Lactose is the main sugar in milk and certain dairy products. Incidentally, milk and dairy products are the only natural source of lactose.

Lactose cannot be absorbed by the intestine as it is and must be digested beforehand by an enzymelactase—which is naturally present in the body.

Did you know?

Lactase "breaks" lactose into two smaller molecules (glucose and galactose) which can then be absorbed by the intestine.

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is characterized by a lack of lactase which results in a limited capacity to digest a certain amount of lactose and unpleasant digestive symptoms.

What happens when the body no longer produces or does not produce enough lactase

Lactose is not broken down by lactase and is found in the colon completely intact, where it is fermented by the gut flora. This fermentation then produces intestinal gases, which in turn cause unpleasant symptoms (bloating, flatulence, and/or diarrhea, etc.).

Lactose intolerances are not created equal...

  • The loss of lactase activity is a natural process, but not an automatic one.
  • Lactose intolerance shouldn't be considered an illness. In fact, lactase activity is at its highest level at birth and naturally decreases during childhood.

Now for a bit of history.

Lactase persistence is a selective advantage that was acquired around 10,000 years ago. It happened following a genetic adaptation, where human beings who were rearing mammals at the time inherited the ability to maintain their capacity to digest milk into adulthood. That's one way to benefit from an additional food source that's full of nutritional value!

  • There are varying degrees of lactose intolerance.

Depending on the extent of an individual's lactase deficiency, but also gut sensitivity or the quality of their gut flora, the amount of lactose that an individual is able to digest without any adverse effects will differ from person to person.

Did you know?

Lactose intolerance can sometimes be diagnosed in newborns at birth. However, this is an extremely rare illness caused by a hereditary genetic defect.

How do I know if I'm lactose intolerant?

Diagnosing a lactose intolerance is done under medical supervision using a lactose tolerance test. This is carried out on an empty stomach and by measuring the amount of hydrogen exhaled (which reflects the amount of intestinal gases produced as a result of the fermentation of lactose). The higher the level of hydrogen, the less effectively lactose is being digested and the more severe the lactose intolerance.

Getting a diagnosis is essential to avoid cutting out dairy products without a medical reason. Over time, self-diagnosis can lead to issues with a dietary imbalance.

Can I consume dairy products even if I'm lactose intolerant?

The answer is YES. The amount of lactose that an individual is able to digest is specific to them and varies from person to person.

People who are lactose intolerant do not need to cut out dairy products completely. Some dairy products, such as aged cheeses, contain very little lactose, while others contain lactose in another form, as is the case for yogurts.

As a result, even if you are lactose intolerant, you can continue enjoying dairy products without suffering any unpleasant digestive symptoms, simply by choosing carefully from the many types of cheeses, yogurts, and fermented milks available.