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Lactose Intolerance

By Craig M. Wax, DO

Lactose intolerance is a common phenomenon among certain groups as they age. Although it's cause isn't clear in every case, it does seem to be more prevalent in asians and jews. A person may lose his or her ability to digest lactose in the intestine. The inner lining of the intestine called the mucosa may not be able to break down the milk sugar lactose to its constituent parts, glucose and galactose. Undigested lactose is then digested by bacteria that lives in the colon which produces carbon dioxide (gas) and water. This gas and water is the chief cause of the abdominal discomfort and flatulence associated with lactose intolerance. This differs distinctly from dairy product allergy which may produce rash, swelling, shortness of breath and other signs of reaction.

It is unclear how the intestine loses its ability to digest lactose. One possibility is that a viral infection later in life ends the mucosa's lactose digestion function, temporarily or permanently. Another is a genetic predisposition to the problem.

There are several treatments available for lactose intolerance. Lactase, better known as the enzyme that naturally breaks down lactose, is available in pill form and in reduced lactose dairy products (Lactaid). These are also specialized freeze dried bacteria that you can take in pill form to help you do the job from within (Dairy Care). The last option is a dairy avoidance diet. This may seem the most sensible, however, if you cut out dairy products you miss out on important nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D.

With the above mentioned understanding of lactose intolerance and the treatments, it is possible to enjoy dairy products without side effects.

Craig M. Wax, DO, LLC of Mullica Hill, NJ provides information on health, nutrition, family medicine, preventive medicine, wellness, natural treatments, alternative medicine, integrative medicine, osteopathic medicine and just plain common sense.
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