Filed under: Lactose
Do milk products make you queasy, gassy, or—worse—send you running to the bathroom? If so, you might have lactose intolerance, a condition caused by a deficiency of lactase, an enzyme produced in the small intestine. Lactase breaks down lactose, a naturally occurring sugar present in milk and milk products.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include nausea, gas, cramping, and diarrhea and usually occur 30 minutes to two hours after eating milk products. Anyone (at any age) can develop lactose intolerance, but it’s more common among adults of African, American Indian, Asian, Jewish, or Mexican heritage. People who have digestive diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease are more likely to be lactose intolerant too.
Some people with lactose intolerance have to avoid all milk products, but others can handle small amounts of cultured milk products such as yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk. If you think you have lactose intolerance, experiment with milk products to see what you can handle.
Many processed foods (including MREs) contain milk products, so learn to be label-savvy: Look for words on food packages that indicate a product might have milk or milk products such as whey, curds, milk byproducts, dry milk solids, and nonfat dry milk powder. Missing your ice cream? Over-the-counter enzyme products can help you tolerate lactose-containing foods if taken with the first bite of food.
Don’t confuse lactose intolerance with milk allergy, an immune response to casein or whey, two proteins found in milk. Symptoms of milk allergy are typically mild and include:
- Runny nose, sneezing, or shortness of breath
- Swollen lips, tongue, or throat
- Rash, hives, or itchy skin
However, severe milk allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a serious, life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. People with severe milk allergy should read labels carefully to avoid all milk products.
Of course, limiting or avoiding milk products could put you at greater risk of developing osteoporosis or “brittle bones.” That’s because milk products contain calcium, an essential nutrient for healthy bones. Look for other calcium-rich foods such as dark-green leafy vegetables, almonds, beans, shellfish, or calcium-fortified juices, soymilk, or almond milk.
To learn more about lactose intolerance, read this informative article from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.