Lactose Intolerance (Lactase Deficiency)

(*From “Prescription for Nutritional Healing”, 3rd Edition, by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC and James F. Balch, M.D. – A Practical A-To-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements)

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose (milk sugar). It is caused by a lack or deficiency of lactase, an enzyme manufactured in the small intestine that splits lactose into glucose and galactose. When a person with lactose intolerance consumes milk or other dairy products, some or all of the lactose they contain remains undigested, retains fluid, and ferments in the colon, resulting in abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and gas. Symptoms usually begin between 30 minutes and 2 hours after consumption of dairy foods.

The degree of lactose intolerance varies from individual to individual. For most of the world’s adults, lactose intolerance is actually a normal condition. Only Caucasians of northern European origin generally retain the ability to digest lactose after childhood. In the United States, an estimated 30 to 50 million people are lactose intolerant. Lactase deficiency can also occur as a result of a gastrointestinal disorder that damages the digestive tract, such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, regional enteritis, or ulcerative colitis. It can also develop on its own. There is no known way to prevent it.

Although far less common, lactose intolerance can occur in children as well as adults. In infants, lactose intolerance can occur after a severe bout of gastroenteritis, which damages the intestinal lining. Symptoms of lactose intolerance in an infant can include foamy diarrhea with diaper rash, slow weight gain and development, and vomiting.

Lactose intolerance can cause discomfort and digestive disruption, but is not a serious threat to health and it can easily be managed through dietary modification.

-Avoid milk and all dairy products except yogurt. This is the most important dietary measure for anyone who is intolerant to lactose. Use soy milk or Rice Dream in place of milk and soy cheese instead of dairy cheese. Especially avoid consuming lactose-containing foods on an empty stomach.

Include yogurt in your diet. Yogurt is the one dairy product that can be good for a person with lactose intolerance. The cultures present in yogurt digest the lactose it contains, so it is no longer a problem. They also aid in overall digestion. Be sure to eat only yogurt that contains active live yogurt cultures. Homemade yogurt is best.

Be sure to eat plenty of foods that are high in calcium. Good choices include apricots, blackstrap molasses, broccoli, collard greens, dried figs, kale, calcium-fortified orange juice, rhubarb, salmon, sardines, spinach, tofu, and yogurt. Calcium supplements may be beneficial.

Check with your pharmacist before taking any medications. Many pills are formulated using lactose as filler. Some birth control pills and stomach medications contain lactose.

During an acute attack, do not eat any solid food, but do drink plenty of quality water and replace lost minerals.

Read food product labels carefully, and avoid any that contain lactose or “milk solids”. Lactose is added to many different types of processed food, including breads, canned and powdered soups, cookies, pancake mixes, powdered drink mixes such as flavored coffees, processed breakfast cereals, processed meats, and salad dressings.

If you are pregnant and have a family history of lactose intolerance, give serious consideration to breastfeeding your baby. If that is not possible, choose a nondairy baby formula, such as a soy-based product.

Lactose intolerance is not the same as milk allergy. Lactose intolerance specifically refers to a syndrome caused by the failure to digest milk sugar; a person with a milk allergy may be able to digest milk normally, but his or her immune system then has an allergic response to one or more of the milk’s components.

Hard, aged cheeses, such as Parmesan cheese, are relatively low in lactose, and may be easier to tolerate than other dairy products.

Ice cream is particularly difficult for a person with lactose intolerance to digest. Not only is ice cream made from milk, but many brands add extra lactose to achieve the desired texture, and the cold temperature can by shocking to the digestive system as well.

Consuming small amounts of dairy products with meals may help improve the lactose tolerance level. The large intestine becomes more accustomed to digesting the lactose when it is introduced in small quantities on a regular basis.

The symptoms of lactose intolerance are similar to those of celiac disease, and the two disorders may occur together.

Lactose-free and lactose-reduced products are available in most supermarkets.