Lactose Intolerance, Symptoms and Causes

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If you (or anyone) suffer from lactose intolerance, you cannot digest lactose, the sugar that is present in milk. Hence, when a person with lactose intolerance consumes milk or any food containing lactose, diarrhea, gas, bloating etc. occurs. This medical condition is usually harmless, but symptoms can be troublesome.

Lactose intolerance occurs due to absence or deficiency of the enzyme required to digest lactose, i.e. lactase. This enzyme is produced in small intestine and responsible for lactose digestion or breakdown, which is a disaccharide. Many individuals have low level of lactase, but most can digest milk products. If you have lactose intolerance and symptoms are troublesome, it is best to try to avoid milk and dairy foods.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?

Symptoms of lactose intolerance appear within 30 minutes to two hours after consuming milk or dairy product containing lactose. The symptoms may be

  • Gas, bloating of abdomen
  • Abdominal cramp
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting or nausea etc.

What causes lactose intolerance?

The condition is caused by absence or deficiency of enzyme lactase, which is responsible for breaking down disaccharide lactose (milk sugar) into simple sugars glucose and galactose (and these simple sugars are absorbed from intestinal wall).

If you suffer from lactose intolerance, after eating dairy product or milk or any food containing lactose, the foods moves down the intestine to colon without being digested and absorbed due to lack of digestive enzyme lactase. In the colon normal bacterial flora interact with lactose and produce gas, bloating and other signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance can be primary, secondary or congenital.

Primary lactose intolerance:

This is the most common type of lactose intolerance. In this type, people start life as normal with lot of lactase enzyme to digest milk and dairy product. However, once child start eating foods other than milk, lactase production may reduce (normally lactase production continues in adult life too). This is genetically determined and common among different groups of people.

Secondary lactose intolerance:

This type of lactose intolerance occurs after suffering an illness or undergoing a surgery of small intestine of injury to small intestine. Treatment of underlying condition may restore lactase deficiency problem.

Congenital lactose intolerance:

In this type of lactose intolerance, babies are born with complete absence of lactase enzyme.

Sometimes premature babies also suffer from lactose intolerance, due to insufficient amount of lactase.

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