Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest and absorb the sugar in milk (lactose) properly. This condition is very common and affects people differently. Symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating or drinking foods that contain lactose. Common symptoms include stomach pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea.

Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase, which helps break down lactose into two simpler forms of sugar called glucose and galactose. People who lack this enzyme are unable to digest lactose properly, leading to symptoms.

There are several different types of lactose intolerance, including:

  • Congenital lactase deficiency, a condition that is present at birth.
  • Primary lactase deficiency, which usually affects adults.
  • Secondary lactase deficiency, which is caused by injury to the small intestine or certain diseases.
  • Developmental lactase deficiency, which is typically seen in infants under two years of age.

Although rare, some people may be born with lactose intolerance due to a genetic disposition. In most cases, however, the condition develops later in life.

Treatment for lactose intolerance involves avoiding or limiting the consumption of foods and drinks containing lactose. This can be done by reading food labels and avoiding milk and other dairy products. Lactose-free products are available to make it easier for people to avoid lactose.

In some cases, people may be able to tolerate small amounts of lactose without symptoms. This is called “lactose tolerance.” It is also possible to increase the amount of lactase enzyme produced in the small intestine to help with digestion.