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Medically reviewed by, Russell Braun RPH
Lactose is a type of sugar that is found in milk. Most people can break this sugar down easily. When people can’t breakdown the sugar they have a condition termed lactose intolerance. As a result they may suffer with several types of stomach problems.
An enzyme that is a complex protein your body uses to break down many types of foods and chemicals in the body. People who lack or have low levels of the lactase enzyme in their GI tract will be lactose intolerant or have impaired lactose absorption.
There are different types of intolerance
Congenital lactase deficiency, simply put that means you are born without the enzyme you need to digest milk.
Secondary lactose intolerance, some people over time will no longer produce enough lactase which leads to the problem.
- 0.001% Congenital lactase deficiency
- ~68% Secondary latcost intolerance prevalence difficult to measure
What percentage of the U.S. is Lactose intolerant?
The National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse claims 50 million people in the United States have some form of lactose intolerance.
- It is estimated that 65% of all humans have some form of lactose intolerance.
What race is most lactose intolerant?
Certain populations have a higher likelihood of having lactose intolerance. There seems to be a definite genetic component to the problem. Below lists estimates by race and ethnic background according to American Family Physicians.
How common is lactose intolerance in other countries?
Lactose intolerance is common in many parts of the world. In contrast, there are also pockets where the occurrence is much lower.
|2%||Northern European origin|
The meta analysis that provided these numbers focused more on malabsorption than true intolerance. The low numbers seen in people form northern Europe seem to indicate a genetic difference providing them protection from lactose malabsorption.
Intolerance vs malabsorption
Low levels of the lactase enzyme cause malabsorption. In contrast, not everyone with malabsorption will have the same level of symptoms as someone with an intolerance.
Intolerance is defined as an inability to eat a food or take a drug without adverse effects.
How to diagnose lactose intolerance
Lactose tolerance test
- Blood test to measure the amount of glucose in the blood after drinking a liquid with high levels of lactose.
Hydrogen breath test
- About 2% of the population do not produce hydrogen or methane making this test not useful for them.
Stool acidity test
- Test used on infants and very young children who can’t do the other tests.
Hair analysis test
- Test that can be bought over the counter to be an indicator further testing may be needed by your doctor.
Stats on complications of lactose intolerance
Typical adverse effects for those with lactose intolerance within 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingesting lactose containing products.
|Fatigue||Low Calcium intake|
Aside from the discomfort associated most of these adverse effects, low calcium intake can be problematic. Decreased calcium to build new bones can lead to osteoporosis in adults and decreased bone growth in children and teens.
How to treat lactose intolerance
Not everyone needs to be treated!
Simple things that can be done to prevent lactose intolerance symptoms from occurring might be the best way to deal with the issue, especially if you have a mild form of intolerance.
- Journaling on symptoms to understand what foods cause the most problems.
- Avoid large servings of dairy products especially when consumed without other foods.
- Finding lactose free or reduced ice creams and milks.
Watch out for certain medications
- Approximately 20% of prescription medication contains lactose.
- Roughly 6% of over the counter medications contain lactose.
- Inert ingredients and fillers are usually the lactose containing component.
Medication for Lactose intolerance
There are few studies that point to these medications being very effective at treating symptoms of lactose intolerance. The consensus seems to be that they do provide some enzyme to the stomach to help digest the lactose present in the food. Consequently, the main problem is that the stomach acid is thought to break down the enzyme before it can be most effective.
Some people will get relief by taking these, even though it may be a placebo effect. The products are available in the following forms:
Don’t forget about calcium
If you find yourself limiting your diet due to the symptoms of lactose intolerance, then supplementing your diet with calcium and vitamin D is a great idea. Taking the recommended daily allowances provided by the FDA would offset the risk posed by lactose intolerance.
Over the counter drugs that are dietary supplements can vary in quality and are not regulated by the Food and drug administration (FDA). Therefore, it is best to look for products who have been endorsed by the US Pharmacopeia (USP). USP is the gold standard for medications and dietary supplements. Nature Made is a calcium and vitamin D product that has been verified by USP.
Can someone with lactose intolerance eat yogurt?
Yogurts that contain live bacteria can help break down lactose. Therefore, it is actually a good idea for someone with lactose intolerance to eat this type of yogurt.
Eating yogurt that does not contain live bacteria will not hurt you but would not provide the benefits of those with live bacteria.
- Yogurts labeled probiotics contain live bacteria.
Studies have been done to determine if probiotic yogurt actually help treat lactose intolerance.
- 20% of people still reported digestive problems when eating probiotic yogurt.
- 80% reported digestive issues after drinking milk and no probiotic yogurt.
Keep lactose intolerance from costing a fortune
Now that you know that the statistics behind lactose intolerance what should you do?
Don’t rush out and buy every type of lactose digestive aid until you know what foods trigger your symptoms. Try reducing those, mixing with other foods such as probiotic yogurts and see if you can maintain adequate calcium absorption without medications.
Remember, medications you take may contain lactose and cause you issues. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you notice this issue.
Finally, if you still have symptoms try the lactase products and make sure you take a dose that is adequate to treat your symptoms.
Click here to get Dr. Jason Reed’s exclusive list of medication questions you MUST ask your doctor, for FREE!
Share your story!
Do you suffer from lactose intolerance? Please chime in below with your comments and thoughts below
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