According to research from the National Institute of Health, 65% of adults have some form of lactose intolerance. By how do you know if you are suffering from it?
Many people suffer from intolerances and don’t even realize they have one. They continue to suffer with the same symptoms and discomforts day after day or night after night and in some cases, they get so used to it that they don’t even notice how unwell they are actually feeling. If you suffer from regular stomach upsets, bloating, nausea or skin conditions or unexplained tiredness, there is a chance you could be suffering from a food intolerance.
An intolerance is very different to an allergy and this is what makes it very difficult to diagnose in some cases. It can be caused by the build up of consuming a certain product over a period of time and sometimes you won’t have any negative side effects, leading to further confusion over the exact cause of your symptoms
Lactose intolerance in particular is rising, with research showing that 65% of Americans suffer from this in some shape of form. Lactose is a type of sugar which is found naturally in the milk of most mammals and if you are intolerant to it, then your body has trouble breaking it down during digestion.
As infants, humans need to be able to break down lactose for digestion as this is present in breast milk. As a result, our bodies are programmed to produce the enzyme ‘lactase’ which is responsible for breaking lactose down. As we get older, our bodies stop producing this in the same quantities and by adulthood, it is thought that 70% of adults do not produce enough lactase to digest lactose in milk. This leads to many people experiencing symptoms after consuming dairy products.
Usually, the signs of lactose intolerance will appear within 2 hours of consuming any milk-based products. You may experience stomach pain, cramping or bloating. You may also notice that your stomach is making loud noises, such as gurgles, rumbles or popping sounds. You may experience belching or flatulence and you may even feel sick. Some people with more severe cases may actually be physically sick after consuming it. Others experience skin irritations like eczema.
Finding out that you have a lactose intolerance can be a long process and the first step is to keep a food diary. In this, you should record everything that you consume during the day including drinks and note any symptoms that you experience. It would also be worth noting the times that you eat/drink as well as the times that you experience the symptoms. This will help you to work out of there is not only a pattern regarding certain foods, but if there is a certain window in which you will experience the symptoms. Going forward, this will help you to better manage your condition and know what your limits are if you should start to feel the negative effects. This is particularly the case if you experience diarrhea as you may choose to completely avoid triggering foods if you are at a social event or travelling on business.
Once you have an idea of what foods or drinks may be triggering you, the next step is to eliminate these from your diet. You will need to have a baseline from which to start reintroducing them, as this will allow you to test your theory and should help you to pinpoint the exact foods or ingredients which are causing the problems.
During this process, you may also find that certain foods containing lactose are ok and others produce more severe symptoms. Sometimes this is due to the level of processing as the more it has been processed, the less of the raw ingredient is present. This does mean that just because you have an intolerance to lactose, you won’t need to cut out every single thing that contains lactose. Fresh cream may be a no go, but chocolate may still be ok!
Having a clearer idea of your triggering foods then gives you the choice on how to best manage your condition going forward. If your symptoms are relatively minor or they only seem to happen if you over indulge, then you may just apply some caution to these foods, perhaps only having them once or twice a week or avoiding them completely if they bloat you on the day you want to wear that little black dress! For those who are more severely affected, you may decide to completely remove these items from your diet and where possible, avoid them when eating out too.
Having an intolerance to lactose can be limiting for some people, but for the vast majority, it can be completely manageable providing you take the right steps for your specific circumstances.