What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Have you ever heard people complaining that they are lactose intolerant and can’t have milk? You might have been confused and wondered what lactose intolerance means.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to break down a type of natural sugar called lactose. Lactose is commonly found in dairy products, such as milk and yogurt.

You become lactose intolerant when your small intestine stops making enough of the enzyme lactase to digest and break down the lactose. When this happens, the undigested lactose moves into the large intestine.

The bacteria that are normally present in your large intestine interact with the undigested lactose and cause symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. The condition may also be called lactase deficiency.

The condition isn’t harmful, but it can be uncomfortable and perhaps embarrassing. Treatment focuses on avoiding dairy products, the use of lactose-free products, or the use of lactase supplements.

There are three main types of lactose intolerance.

1) Primary Lactose Intolerance

This is the most common type of lactose intolerance. Most people are born with enough lactase. Babies need the enzyme in order to digest their mother’s milk. The amount of lactase a person makes may decrease over time and results in lactose intolerance.

2) Secondary Lactose Intolerance

Intestinal diseases such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease, a surgery, or an injury to your small intestine can also cause lactose intolerance. Lactase levels may be restored if the underlying disorder is treated.

3) Congenital Or Developmental Lactose Intolerance

In very rare cases, lactose intolerance is inherited. A defective gene can be transmitted from the parents to a child, resulting in the complete absence of lactase in the child.

Most adults around the world can’t digest milk. 40% of humans stop producing enough lactase to digest milk between the ages of 2 and 5. Lactose intolerance is very common in adults, particularly those with Asian, African, and Hispanic ancestry.

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