Facts: Lactose intolerance is one of the major food intolerances present in the world today. Some researchers also believe that its prevalence, amongst people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds is increasing. However, in lay terms, lactose intolerance is a type of food intolerance and it occurs when the small intestine does not make enough lactase enzymes. It is also called lactase deficiency or hypolactasia because of the inability to digest lactose – a common disaccharide sugar found in milk and other dairy products. In a world where a huge emphasis is placed on dairy products, this intolerance may seem hard to cope with. But, because it is not as debilitating or life threatening as many other diseases, its presence is sometimes, unrecognized. It should be noted that this intolerance has polarizing effects amongst people. This is because; some people get mild to no symptoms while others may get very severe symptoms. Symptoms include; Abdominal bloating, Abdominal cramps, excessive gas, diarrhea and nausea.
Science & Pathophysiology: Lactase enzymes are present in the cells (microvilli) lining the small intestines in mammals. These enzymes work by breaking down and hydrolyzing lactose (a disaccharide sugar) into glucose and galactose (monosaccharides) for transport across the cell membrane. However, in the absence of these lactase enzymes, unabsorbed lactose sugar osmotically attract fluid into the bowel. It should be noted that, this inflow of fluid into the bowel is often three times the normal predicted amount. When the unabsorbed lactose gets into the colon, digestive bacteria surround it and fermentation occurs. During this process, lactose is cleaved into gas and monosaccharides. However, since most nutrient absorption take place in the small intestine, the colon cannot absorb the newly formed monosaccharides. Thus, osmotic pressure rises and more fluid is drawn into the bowel. Therefore, the net result of the ingestion of lactose by lactose intolerant patients is the significant rise in fluid and gas in the bowel.
Some alternatives and Dietary Management:
- The most publicized management of lactose intolerance is the use of lactase enzyme pills that can be bought as an Over the Counter Drug (OTC) in any major drug store.
Other alternatives include:
– Instead of milk, take almond, coconut or soymilk. But if you think you can live without milk that will be another alternative too. Some grocery stores try to sell lactose-free milk.
– Instead of regular cheese, buy soy cheese and other derivatives.
– For people that have a sweet tooth, use any type of oil (vegetable, sunflower, canola) to bake instead of butter.
– Use margarine as bread spreads instead of butter. It should be noted that margarine might contain whey powder (milk powder), so always buy the type of margarine without this ingredient.
– Have sorbets instead of yoghurt or ice cream. (Some shops now sell lactose-free ice creams too).
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the above pictures, they were simply gotten from the internet (google images).