Everything you need to know about lactose

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Lately, there has been a lot of talk about lactose intolerance and not just for young children. What is this lactose and do you need to eliminate it from your diet?

Lactose has been in the news a lot lately. Many celebrities say they are giving it up, and some follow in their footsteps without even fully knowing what this ingredient is. It is worth knowing that if we do not have lactose intolerance, we should not give it up for our own health.

Lactose – what is it?

Lactose is a disaccharide formed by glucose and galactose. It occurs naturally in the milk of mammals. To digest it, our body needs to break down lactose into simple sugars, for this purpose, the enzyme lactase is needed. It should be noted that lactose is very important for human, it affects the regulation of appetite, hormone balance and makes the sense of taste develop. It is also an excellent and easily absorbable source of energy

What do we find lactose in?

Lactose is of course present in breast milk. It is also present in all products made from animal milk, such as yogurt, cheese, ice cream, buttermilk, kefir, cream, etc. Small amounts can also be found in chocolate, sweets, bread, and even cereals and some processed meats. Some medications also contain it.

What is lactose intolerance?

It is estimated that up to 25% of the population may have lactose intolerance, although this is hard to say because in many cases it is quite mild and therefore underestimated. Lactose intolerance is an abnormal reaction of the body to the intake of lactose. This usually happens due to a lack or deficiency of the digestive enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose into glucose and galactose

Interestingly, lactose intolerance is more common in adults than in children. It is most often inherited – this means that one of our close ancestors had a polymorphism in the LCT gene. It also happens that intolerance results from a congenital deficiency of a digestive enzyme. In this case the first symptoms appear already in newborns who react badly to breast milk

Sometimes it happens that some food intolerance may lead to temporary or even permanent lactase deficiency (this happens e.g. in case of Crohn’s disease, Whipple’s disease, celiac disease, cow’s milk protein allergy, cystic fibrosis, and also in patients with necrotizing enterocolitis or short bowel syndrome)

See also: What happens to our body when we give up sugar, salt or dairy?

How does lactose intolerance manifest itself?

How do we know that our body is lactose intolerant? It is evidenced by a number of symptoms, such as: loose stools with a characteristic sour smell, bloating, large amounts of gas, colic, or loud popping/bulging inside the abdomen. Some people also experience nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are aggravated primarily by the amount of lactose-containing foods consumed – the more you eat, the worse you will feel

However, in order to make a definite diagnosis of intolerance, it is necessary to visit a doctor, who may recommend several examinations and tests to confirm that our body does not digest lactose.

Lactose intolerance – can it be cured?

If we are dealing with a congenital deficiency of a digestive enzyme, then unfortunately it is necessary to completely eliminate from the diet products that contain lactose. In some cases, lactase tablets may help. In the case of secondary intolerance, it is usually enough to temporarily eliminate milk and dairy products

It is important to remember that with lactose intolerance in children, a proper diet and supplementation is necessary. Otherwise, calcium deficiency may occur, resulting in rickets or osteoporosis.

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