What is lactose, and why are some people intolerant to it?Lactose is a sugar composed of glucose and galactose, which—because two sugars are combined—is more commonly called a disaccharide. The enzyme that breaks down the two-sugar molecule for digestion is called lactase. In essence, lactose intolerance is the body’s inability to digest lactose due to a deficiency of the enzyme lactase. The enzyme lactase is produced by the cells lining the small intestine. The enzyme can be lower as a result of any disruption to the lining of the intestines, such as chronic inflammation, presence of celiac disease, genetics, or leaky gut, causing lactase to not be produced. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea.
Is lactose present in all dairy products?Lactose is present in milk and other dairy products. Some unpasteurized yogurt and fermented cheeses can be tolerated by people with lactose intolerance. Experiencing symptoms after drinking milk products does not necessarily indicate lactose intolerance because a person could also have an allergy to proteins in milk, such as casein or whey. Lactose is commonly added as a filler in certain supplements as well as in bread, pastries, salad dressings, and processed foods. As with any food allergy or intolerance, it is crucial to check the food label or ask at restaurants if the food or product is dairy free or lactose free.
Can people with lactose intolerance still consume lactose?Because lactose intolerance is an enzyme deficiency, people who consume dairy will more than likely experience some symptoms. If someone with lactose intolerance wants to consume milk products, there are many products on the market today, such as lactase enzyme supplements, that can be taken before meals to help with digestion. There are also lactose-free milk products as well as many dairy-free milk alternatives, including coconut, rice, or almond milk. Try sherbet instead of ice cream as it is considered a low lactose food.
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Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc is a licensed naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist practicing in Seattle, WA. She specializes in migraine treatment and digestive disorders. Her clinic provides people with a starting point to take control of their health and digestion. Visit her website at www.startingpointacupuncture.com.