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Lactose Intolerance

How prevalent is Lactose Intolerance? About 70% of the world's population just can't drink milk or eat dairy products without getting an upset stomach. Lactose Intolerance is genetic and happens most often in people of African, Asian and Mediterranean descent. It is caused by a deficiency of lactase, an enzyme needed to absorb and digest lactose (milk sugar). Undigested lactose lingers in the intestine. They are being fermented - creating intestinal discomfort (abdominal pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea). Many people with lactose intolerance do not even know they have the condition; while some may be misdiagnosed as having a serious bowel disease. So don't believe you have a serious bowel disorder until you are sure milk is not at fault.

How much upset milk can cause depends on the severity of your lactase deficiency. Many people with lactose intolerance can still drink a single glass of milk without distress.

What to Eat

  • drink smaller quantities of milk at one time
  • drink milk with meals
  • use Lactaid (an enzyme to help digest lactose in dairy) every time when you eat dairy
  • use special milk products such as Lacteeze or other "Lactose-free milk" in which the lactose is reduced by 99%. Some "lactose-reduced" milk products have lactose partially reduced- so be sure to read the labels
  • For infants with lactose intolerance, try Lactose-free infant formulas
  • try calcium-fortified soy milk to ensure adequate calcium intake
  • also try calcium-fortified orange juice if you are concerned about calcium
  • some dairy products are naturally low in lactose such as swiss cheese and cottage cheese
  • many commercial products contain lactose. If the ingredient list contains the following ingredients, it has lactose. Ingredients include whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, and nonfat dry milk powder

What about yogurt?

Yogurt may be safe. Some studies showed that the active live bacterial culture (also known as probiotics) found in yogurt help lactose digestion. However frozen yogurt does not seem to provide the same effect for many people. Buttermilk and acidophilus milk, although fermented, still cause as much distress in most people as plain milk. As everyone's level of lactase deficiency is different, sometimes you really do not know whether you can tolerate a specific product until you try drinking it.

How to tell if you are intolerant to cow's milk

If you suspect you may be lactose intolerant, stop drinking any milk or eating any dairy products for at least two weeks.

If you feel better - and the gastrointestinal symptoms have diminished - you can do a "challenge" or "reintroduction" test to try to determine how much of which dairy foods you need to avoid. Drink a little milk or eat a little cheese and wait for two or three days to see what happens. It may take that long for symptoms of lactose intolerance to show up, say experts.