When someone is said
to be lactose intolerant this is because the digestive system of
this individual is not able to break down completely the sugar found
in milk called LACTOSE. This inability results from a shortage of
the enzyme lactase, which is produced by the cells that line the
small intestine. Hence, the term Lactase Deficiency.
In a normal digestive
system all the food we eat is broken down into smaller and simpler
‘bits and pieces' in an easy way to say it. This helps the body
to absorb the food and take out the proteins and what ever is needed
to maintain itself. Lactase breaks down milk sugar (lactose) into
the simpler form of sugar called glucose that can then be absorbed
into the bloodstream.
When lactase is missing
or there is not enough of it to digest the lactose consumed, the
results may be very distressing (see symptoms) for the person. While
not all persons deficient in lactase have the same symptoms if at
all, those who do are considered to be lactose intolerant.
Lactose is simply a sugar
found in milk.
Any sort of milk produced
by the human being or animals (we do not like to call humans as
animals-sorry biologists) contains lactose. The sugar we mix with
our coffees or teas (in the case of the British) comes generally
from the sugarcane and this sugar is called sucrose. On the other
hand sugar we find in fruits is called fructose and sugar that is
used in the brewing of barley, wheat and oats is called maltose
(not Maltese). Our body needs sugar as it is the source of fuel
we need to for example move our muscles or to simply be able to
read this message. However, the only sugar our body is able to burn
is called glucose, therefore all other sugars that enter our system
have to be converted into glucose. This can only be done by the
help of enzymes produced by our body that are able to biochemically
convert what ever sugar into glucose.
causes lactose intolerance?
So now we know that
lactose intolerance is caused by the inability of the digestive
system to break down lactose into glucose. We also know that the
protein (enzyme) responsible to break down lactose into glucose
is called lactase. Therefore, the lack of lactose causes lactose
intolerance.However, different persons may have different amounts
of lactase produced. For instance Peter may be producing just
enough lactase to cope with a glass of milk in the morning before
suffering any effects while Jane is not even able to have a lick
of ice-cream because it distresses her. Some of the causes of
lactose intolerance are known. The production of the enzyme lactase
can be hindered by certain digestive diseases and injuries to
the small intestine. In some cases, children are born without
the ability to produce lactase. However, in most cases lactase
deficiency develops naturally over time when after about the age
of 2 years, the body begins to produce less lactase. Interestingly,
most people do not experience symptoms until they reach an older
are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
The symptoms listed below
are caused by the fermentation of lactose. Since lactose is not
broken into glucose, and hence left unabsorbed by the body, the
perfect conditions found in the intestines help the lactose to ferment
and this leads to the formation of gases. A particular gas is methane
that is usually the cause for the pain and aggressive flatulence.
Common symptoms include:
Persons who suffer from
lactase deficiency and do not avoid lactose may suffer from weight
loss and malnutrition.
The severity of symptoms
varies depending on the amount of lactose each individual can tolerate.
Some of the symptoms may be similar to those of milk allergy but
milk allergies can cause the body to react quicker, more often within
a few minutes.
Compare the symptoms
of lactose intolerance with those of milk allergy.
treatment can I use for lactose intolerance?
is better than cure is what the wise say, and in this case this
proves to be very right because there is no cure for lactose intolerance
for the moment.
luckily lactose intolerance is relatively easy to treat. Symptoms
can be controlled through diet as at the moment there is no existing
treatment to improve the body's ability to produce lactase.
with lactase deficiency should not consume any foods containing
lactose (for a list of foods containing hidden lactose click here).
In general older children and adults need not avoid lactose completely,
but individuals can handle different amounts of lactose . For instance,
John may suffer symptoms after drinking a small glass of milk, while
Rose can drink one glass but not two. Some persons may be able to
tolerate certain products containing lactose but not others. This
is a learning process for each individual and it is only by trial
and error to find out what and how much exactly one is able to handle
products containing lactose.
buy products that do not contain lactose. Supermarkets sell many
products that can improve one's life without the risk of consuming
lactose. One can find many non-dairy products including butter,
yoghourt, ‘cream', and of coarse Soya milk. This milk contains all
of the nutrients including calcium, found in regular milk. One can
buy unsweetened Soya-milk or sweetened, usually with fructose. Please
make sure that when you are shopping for non lactose food products
you do not forget to look for the other ingredients that contain
hidden lactose as otherwise you might get symptoms anyway. Make
sure you have a copy of the list for the hidden products.
I/my child suffer form lactose intolerance?
intolerance is a very common disorder that is present in many people
and being ignored all the time. The first thing you basically need
to check about yourself is whether you get wind as soon as you have
dairy products. This usually start within a few minutes and may
be an indication that you might be lactase deficient (on the other
hand if your colleague in the office suffers from wind instruct
him to avoid dairy products to allow you to work in peace!).
suffer from symptoms of lactose intolerance without realising the
actual cause of it. In these cases the person may feel distressed
with symptoms. The main problem is the fact that not many people
would ever think that milk may give all these problems to them.
Usually all other things are blamed but milk is never in the list
of suspicions (especially in allergies - see milk allergies).
babies suffer from wind and colic. However, the cause of all the
pain, crying and distress on both the baby and the parents may be
the inability of the baby to break down lactose (lactase deficiency).
The fermentation of lactose in the bowels causes the formation of
gases, including methane and carbon dioxide. These will cause the
baby’s intestines to inflate and there is not need to say how distressing
this feeling on the baby is. Unfortunately this remains undetected
and the baby is fed milk all the time. With advise from the doctor
and dieticians a supplement to milk should be found, at least to
see if the cause for colic is milk.
drawback is that LI is misdiagnosed in most of the cases. Doctors
find it difficult to pinpoint the presence of LI and people with
this condition are wrongly classified as suffering from the Irritable
Bowel Syndrome (IBS). These persons are made to suffer in vain,
where if they were diagnosed properly, all it takes is the avoidance
of milk from their diet. This will be enough to lead them to a normal
how would one expect us to blame milk, isn’t it the same liquid
that our mother has produced to nourish us with? Isn’t milk the
most special drink, full of proteins and nutrients much required
by our body? Sad to say that this does not make sense for every
one because statistics show the other face of milk.
lactase deficiency (the inability to produce the enzyme needed to
break down lactose) develops in about 80-95% of blacks and Orientals.
About 50% of Mediterranean are affected while only up to 15% of
Northern Europeans develop lactase deficiency.
suffer from lactose intolerance but probably few of them realise
this and remain in distress unnecessarily.
lactose intolerance contagious?
is simply NO. These disorders are not transmitted from a person
to another, nor are they transmitted through any other media (e.g.,
bacteria, viruses, animals).
intolerance is the inability of the person in question to produce
enough lactase to break down the sugar lactose, milk allergy is
caused by the inability of the immune system to learn that milk
proteins are harmless for the body. None of these two irregularities
are caused by an external agent, however, they can be hereditary.
child is suffering from lactose intolerance but we never did.
How did this happen?
As you might
already know each one of us was made by our mother and father. On
conception, the chromosomes of both our parents fused together and
half the genes of each parent combined to make what you and I are
today. Each human being has 46 chromosomes in our blood cell (not
in the red ones though). Each chromosome contains about 1000 genes
and each gene has a particular function to do.
if you have a black skin then the gene that produces the protein
melanin is switched on. If you are a Mediterranean and have a tan
skin then the same gene is producing less melanin, hence the lighter
colour in Mediterranean than in black people. Moreover, Nordics
have even a lighter skin and as you can predict the gene responsible
for the production of melanin produces less melanin. Genes can become
damaged during conception or during pregnancy and this damage can
hinder and alter their production of the protein they are assigned
to produce. In very rare cases (but they exist) the mutation or
damage to the gene can completely disallow the gene to function
at all and therefore produces no proteins - in genetics it is called
switching off (see below). Staying on the case of skin colour albinos
are the result of the damaged gene that produces melanin.
everybody has 2 genes (in each cell) that produce lactase (to breakdown
lactose). One is inherited from the father and one from the mother.
If one of the genes we inherited does not switch on properly when
it should do, there will not be enough lactase produced, however,
this is not a big problem because the other gene normally compensates
by producing more lactase. In this case the person in question would
not suffer from any intolerance. Now if this person has a child
and passes the weak gene to the child and the mother happens to
have a weak gene similar to the partner, then the child is going
to inherit two weak genes that are not able to produce enough lactase,
hence the lactose intolerance to the child while the parents are
of how much intolerant to lactose the child is depends on how much
these two genes produce lactase. If they do not produce any at all
(due to complete damage) then the child will be severely intolerant
questions? Ask here.