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Lactose Intolerance – It’s Explosive!

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD July 21, 2019

Introduction

So I’m at dinner with a group of friends, and somehow the topic gets to lactose intolerance. For 15 minutes. They were really into it. At dinner! You know what it is. Everyone seemingly knows someone who has it, even if (hopefully) you aren’t reminded of it too often. Lactose intolerance is a state where you simply have difficulty digesting lactose (one of the sugars we consume, most notably in milk and other dairy products) because of a deficiency in the enzyme that breaks it down, called lactase. Lactose intolerance occurs more often in Black, Asian, Hispanic and Native Americans, but that doesn’t mean your body read that book.

So by now you may be thinking “What is there to discuss besides the odoriferous emanations produced?” (In case you didn’t get the reference that’s from an old Right Guard commercial featuring Charles Barkley.) Well, the biggest concern from a health standpoint is to ensure you’re still getting enough calcium to keep your bones strong and enough Vitamin D.

Here are 3 sets of practical facts to help you get through it all.

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If you have lactose intolerance, that doesn’t mean you’re allergic to dairy products.

  • This is an important distinction. There’s nothing immediately life-threatening about the ingestion of dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant, as there might be if you were allergic. Just be aware of the cramping, bloating, flatulence, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and gas that may ensue.

If you’re lactose intolerant, that doesn’t mean you can’t necessarily have any dairy or won’t ever be able to have dairy.

  • Lactose intolerance occurs in many shades of grey. Some people get worse with age; others get better as they learn to work around it. Some develop lactose intolerance at birth, others later in life, and others develop it after injury or surgery to the small intestine (which is where lactase is normally produced). Some can ingest small amounts of certain products without symptoms. In the privacy of your own surroundings, you should discover for yourself if you’re affected every time you have dairy or whether or not only large amounts of certain products cause symptoms (e.g. Try not to eat the entire gallon of ice cream.). You should also gauge your response to dairy after taking various lactase-containing supplements.

If you’re lactose intolerant, you still can get adequate calcium. Here’s a few suggestions.

  • Soy and rice products have exploded (in a different way) on the market. Consider soy milk, soybeans and tofu.
  • Many juice, bread and cereal makers have taken to providing calcium.
  • Some fruits and veggies are great sources. Consider broccoli, collard and turnip greens, kale, okra, pinto beans, rhubarb, and spinach. Oranges are a good source of calcium.
  • Other great foods include almonds, salmon, sardines and tuna.

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