What is lactose intolerance?
Normally, when a person consumes dairy products containing lactose, an enzyme called lactase will break it down into simple sugars (glucose and galactose) to serve as fuel for the body. In a lactose intolerant person, this enzyme is lacking. Hence the lactose remains undigested and instead gets broken down by resident bacteria causing the symptoms such as flatus, bloating, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.
This condition is fairly common. It affects males and females equally — usually older individuals — and almost all Asian, African, Hispanic and Native Americans. Factors such as gastrointestinal infection or the intake of antibiotics can also cause temporary lactose intolerance.
If you have symptoms of bloating, abdominal cramps or diarrhea within two hours of taking dairy products, you should see a doctor to confirm if you’re really suffering from this condition.
How do I test for this?
a) Hydrogen Breath Test
Hydrogen is normally not present in a person’s breath, but because lactose in lactase-deficient individuals gets broken down and forms gases, one of which is hydrogen, it is then detected in the breath of deficient individuals. This will entail blowing into a tube every 30 minutes for two hours after the intake of a lactose-containing drink. An elevation in the hydrogen level is expected in lactose intolerance.
A tissue sample from your gut is taken to test for the presence of the lactase enzyme.
c) Stool Acidity Test (for children)
Stools will be tested for the presence of lactic acid or other fatty acids.
Managing Lactose Intolerance
It can be managed individually depending on how deficient you are. Some deficient individuals are still able to eat small amounts of dairy without symptoms.
1) Cheese and yoghurt contain only a low amount of lactose and seem to be well tolerated by most.
2) Mix your dairy intake with other non-lactose-containing foods in the same meal to allow slower digestion.
3) Lactase-containing supplements are available and can be taken before consuming dairy products.
4) Lactose-free products (those that contain lactase) are easily available.
5) Read food labels. Words such as milk or milk by-products, whey, curds and dry milk solids indicate that the food contains lactose.
Finally, calcium tablets should be taken as part of your daily supplement since the intake of dairy products may not be enough for the daily requirement. Take calcium enriched non-dairy foods such as tofu, broccoli, beans and soya milk.
For more medical advice visit Family Medical Practice — vietnammedicalpractice.com — or go to 298 I Kim Ma, Ba Dinh, Hanoi; Diamond Plaza, 34 Le Duan, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City; 50-52 Nguyen Van Linh, Danang