Although lactose intolerance usually begins when you’re around age two, it isn’t until you reach adolescence or adulthood that the symptoms typically appear for many people. In fact, the condition is more likely to appear in adults, and the older you get, the more likely it is that you’ll discover you’re lactose intolerant.
Lactose intolerance is best described as the inability to process lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products. To properly digest lactose, you need a sufficient amount of an enzyme called lactase, produced in the lining of your small intestines. The lactase breaks down the milk-based sugars into galactose and glucose. These forms of sugar then get absorbed into your bloodstream and used for energy.
Just because you have a lactase deficiency doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll ever develop lactose intolerance. Even people who do have the condition don’t always develop digestive symptoms. Lactose intolerance develops over time, and the symptoms become much more noticeable as you age. The main symptoms include:
Lactose intolerance can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms mimic other digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and GERD. Your Manhattan gastroenterologist may ask you to eliminate milk products for a period of time to see if your symptoms subside. Other tests that can help detect the condition include:
- Hydrogen breath testing;
- Lactose intolerance testing.
In addition to advancing age, other causes of lactose intolerance can include the small intestine injury. Digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease, an overgrowth of intestinal bacteria, and Celiac disease can lead to lactose intolerance. Your ethnicity also plays a factor. Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, and African Americans are more prone to lactose intolerance.
There is no cure for lactose intolerance, though dietary changes can help mitigate your symptoms. Follow your doctor’s orders regarding diet and supplements. You need to make sure you get sufficient calcium if you forgo milk in all its forms, though most adults with lactose intolerance can handle small amounts. Here are some diet tips:
- Switch to soy milk or lactose-free dairy products. They are now widely available in grocery stores.
- Eat and drink small, four-ounce portions of dairy to decrease the risk of gastrointestinal issues.
- Read labels to find hidden lactose. It may be listed as milk byproducts, whey, and dry milk powder. Some medications also are made with lactose.
- Experiment with other forms of dairy. Hard cheeses and live-cultured yogurt, for example, often don’t produce significant symptoms.
- Try over-the-counter lactase drops.
However, before you begin any self-treatment, get a professional diagnosis from a New York City gastroenterologist to ensure you don’t have a more serious condition and work out a plan for staying healthy while avoiding milk. Book an appointment for more information on how our NYC Gastroenterologists can help to treat lactose intolerance.