If eating ice cream sends your tummy into turmoil, you might feel like the odd man out every time your friends want to indulge in sundaes. But what you’re experiencing — lactose intolerance, or simply the inability to easily digest lactose, the sugar in milk and other dairy products — is becoming more and more common. “Approximately 25 percent of Americans and 75 percent of people worldwide are lactose intolerant,” says JJ Virgin, a California-based nutrition expert and creator of diet and exercise DVDs.
What’s Behind Lactose Intolerance?
To break down lactose, whether it’s in milk or ice cream or chocolate pudding, the body produces a digestive enzyme called lactase. If your body doesn’t have enough lactase, the result is lactose intolerance.
For the vast majority of people, the cause of lactose intolerance is simply genetics, says David Metz, MD, a professor of medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. You often begin life with the ability to digest lactose, and then your levels of lactase decline as you age. Only in rare instances does lactose intolerance result from an injury or an illness.
Lactose Intolerance Symptoms
“Without the lactase enzyme, bacteria in the small and large intestine act on these milk sugars and convert them to different byproducts, one of which is gas,” says Elliot Schwarzenberger, MD, a gastroenterologist in private practice in New York City.
Dr. Schwarzenberger says that most lactose intolerance symptoms are related to this gas. “Most patients complain of abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea,” he says.
“But there is a significant variability of symptoms among patients with lactose intolerance. For example, adolescents might be more likely to experience vomiting.” Also, abdominal pain may be crampy in nature and is often felt most around the belly button or lower abdomen. “The stools are usually bulky, frothy, and watery,” he adds
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you think you’re experiencing any lactose intolerance symptoms, it’s worth a visit to your doctor. “Lactose intolerance itself, or the symptoms related to it, are in and of themselves not dangerous — with the possible exception of osteoporosis from low calcium and vitamin D intake if you avoid dairy products, although this is not a consequence of the condition itself,” says Schwarzenberger. “However, other conditions can mimic the symptoms of lactose intolerance. Any patient with GI symptoms that affect quality of life or are concerning should at the minimum speak with their internist.”
Edited by: LINDA! at: 10/2/2012 (19:41)
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