Lactose intolerance, in itself, is a fairly easy concept to understand: put simply, it describes a condition where a person’s body is intolerant (or sensitive) to lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and milk products. While most people produce an enzyme called lactase in the small intestine, those who are lactose intolerant are unable to produce this enzyme naturally, and must therefore either adjust their diet or seek other treatment options.
While some lactose intolerant individuals cannot eat or drink any milk products, most are able to digest small amounts of only certain dairy foods. For example, not all lactose intolerant individuals have a problem with yogurt, as the bacteria present in yogurt can help to break down the sugars. Some people may even be able to tolerate milk products in recipes because of the chemical changes that occur in the cooking process.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance can vary from person to person, although most typically involve stomach discomfort and gas. More serious cases of lactose intolerance may include diarrhea and vomiting these symptoms usually occur within 30 minutes to 2 hours of consuming the lactose.
You might be wondering what causes lactose intolerance, and this varies from person to person as well. Some people are genetically predisposed to lactose intolerance, such as those who have family members who are lactose intolerant. In these cases, the condition usually presents itself in the teenage to early adult years. People of Native American, African, Asian, and South American descent are more likely to be troubled with lactose intolerance than those of European descent.
Some people are also born lactose intolerant, such as premature babies who are unable to produce lactase. In these situations, the lactose intolerance typically goes away as the body becomes capable of producing the enzyme on their own. In other cases the lactose intolerance may present itself after intestinal surgery or a bad stomach flu. This may be a temporary or permanent condition. Lactose intolerance may also be concurrent with a lifelong illness such as cystic fibrosis.