Living with Lactose Intolerance
Imagine eating ice cream and less than an hour later, you’re doubled over with severe stomach pains. This could be a sign of lactose intolerance, a problem that affects between 30 and 50 million Americans – or one out of every 10. Lactose intolerance doesn’t mean you have a milk allergy. Rather, it means you have trouble digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. A healthy small intestine makes enough lactase (an enzyme that breaks down lactose) to digest food with lactose in it. If you don’t have enough, it leads to abdominal pain and bloating, gas, diarrhea, and even nausea.
If someone experiences stomach pain after drinking milk, it doesn’t automatically mean lactose intolerance is the culprit. It could be other maladies like irritable bowel syndrome or fructose malabsorption. Doctors test for lactose intolerance in three ways: a hydrogen breath test, blood test, or stool acidity test. During the breath test, a doctor tests a patient’s breath for hydrogen, because undigested lactose produces normally produce high levels of it. The stool test if most often used to test babies. No matter what someone does, there’s nothing they can do to help their body digest lactose. That means they can only manage the symptoms with dietary changes.
To reduce the symptoms, avoid foods made with milk like ice cream, butter, cottage cheese, select cheeses (read the nutrition information), and cream. Lactose is also in some prepared foods like instant potatoes, salad dressings, soups, cereal, pancakes, biscuits, potato chips, doughnuts, and cookies. Remember to read labels and scan for anything with the word “milk,” “whey,” “butter,” “cream,” or “lactose.” Some patients who don't want to give up their favorite dairy foods are able to manage their symptoms by taking a lactase supplement with any meal that contains lactose rich foods. There are several dairy products that are safe for most lactose intolerant people to consume due to their low lactose levels. These foods include many hard cheeses such as parmasean, romano, asiago, and sharp cheddars. Yogurt is also easily digestible for the lactose intollerant because the live cultures it contains helps the body break down the dairy.