Lactose intolerance is the condition that leads to the body’s failure to metabolize lactose which is a sugar that is found in all dairy products and some other foods. This is the result of the unavailability or the reduced availability of the needed enzyme called lactase within the intestinal digestive systems.
Therefore, when lactose is ingested, it passes unprocessed directly into the colon where the enteric bacteria quickly begin metabolizing it which leads to the fermentation of the entire mess and the production of huge amounts of gas composed of hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. This process leads to an array of uncomfortable abdominal symptoms such as:
The Major Classifications of Lactose Intolerance
Although it was not until the late 1950s that the condition acquired its name, there is evidence to show that it may have existed in ancient times as it was noted by Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), a famous Greek physician. As a matter of fact, lactose intolerance is such a commonly occurring condition that it has been estimated that more than seventy-five percent of adults around the world suffer its consequences to some degree or another and it is classified by three major types:
- A. Primary Lactose Intolerance. This type of intolerance is environmentally induced and found in regions such as Asia and Africa where dairy products are usually not commercially produced and children’s digestive systems do not develop the ability to digest them.
- B. Secondary Lactose Intolerance. This is environmentally induced by the widespread presence of gastrointestinal diseases and intestinal parasites such as giardia. Depending on what induced it, secondary lactose intolerance can be permanent (caused by intestinal parasites) or temporary (caused by viral conditions or by ingestion of too much milk in infancy).
- C. Congenital Lactase Deficiency. This type of lactose intolerance is due to a genetic malady which inhibits the production of lactase and it is usually diagnosed very early in the infant’s life.
Living with Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance is not a life threatening condition nor does it lead to any other serious conditions. Furthermore, it is rarely an all-or-nothing situation where no amounts of lactose are ever tolerated. On the contrary, most lactose intolerant patients can happily ingest some dairy products but the exact quantities are up to their own individual digestive systems to determine through the pangs of trial and error.
Levels of lactose intolerance seem to increase with age and it becomes apparent to those who suffer the condition that they need to reduce their intake of dairy products as their age advances. It is important to recognize that lactose is present in two main food groups: dairy products and food additives in dairy and non-dairy products.
Dairy products vary in their percentage of lactose but as a general rule, those which are fat free or low fat tend to have slightly higher percentages.
- Milk – human (9%), cow (4.7%), goat (4.1%), buffalo (4.86%), yak (4.93%) and sheep (4.6%).
- Butter – negligible.
- Yogurt and Kefir – these are more tolerable to lactose intolerance patients because they contain lactase enzymes used for their production.
- Cheeses – may have as much as ten or more percent.
- Sour Cream and Ice Cream – they may vary but most will have approximately five percent.
- Food Additives. Lactose is found in foods that contain lactoserum, whey, milk solids, modified milk ingredients which may be found in foods such as sausages and hot dogs, sliced meats, pâtés, margarines, breads, breakfast cereals, potato chips, dried fruit, medications, power bars, protein supplements and so on.