Lactose intolerance: When dairy products cause irritation
Countless people are familiar with the problem: the stomach rumbles after a glass of milk, a cappuccino or a pot of yogurt. This is swiftly followed by stomach ache, flatulence or diarrhoea. The reason for this may be lactose intolerance.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is the most common food intolerance in the Western world. Up to 30 percent of people suffer from it.
Lactose intolerance is typically manifested by digestive problems that start after consuming dairy products
What is lactose and what happens in the event of a lactose deficiency?
Lactose is the sugar found in milk and dairy products. To enable the body to metabolize it, the endogenous enzyme lactase must separateit into the nutrients glucose and galactose in the small intestine. In lactose-intolerant people, there is either none of this enzyme or not enough, meaning that the lactose enters the large intestine unseparated. The bacteria within the large intestine then break down the lactose, forming gas in the process – this triggers the complaints described. This is why people also talk of “dairy intolerance”
The enzyme lactase separates lactose into glucose and galactose, which can be absorbed by the small intestine.
If there is no lactase enzyme or an insufficient quantity of it, lactose cannot be separated and it cannot be absorbed by the small intestine. Problems arise in the intestinal tract.
Causes of Lactose Intolerance
There can be two main causes of lactose intolerance. Genetic primary lactose intolerance stems from the fact that many people lose the ability to digest lactose as they get older. Consequently, adults often experience problems with dairy products. Secondary lactose intolerance is caused by a damaged intestinal mucosa, e.g. due to medication or illness. In contrast with the genetic form, secondary lactose intolerance usually ends as soon as the intestine starts to function properly again.
Lactose intolerance in babies and small children
Even babies and small children can be susceptible to lactose intolerance. However, with a possible frequency of just 1 to 3 percent,instances are fairly rare. In most cases, babies suffer from a temporary intolerance at worst, due to the fact that their intestinal tract is not yet fully developed. A lasting intolerance does not usually occur until between the age of five and twenty years old.