Lactose is the sugar/carbohydrate component of milk and dairy products. It is broken down in the body by an enzyme called lactase. Lactase enzyme production declines with age, and a large percentage of adults experience lactose intolerance at some point. Most people can tolerate a small amount of lactose naturally, but anything over 7 to 12gm will generally cause discomfort.
What is lactose intolerance?
Due to inadequate lactase, the lactose is not broken down. When it reaches the colon, the bacteria there degrade it and produce excessive hydrogen. This causes gas, bloating and pain.
Lactose intolerance is becoming quite prevalent in our modern world, and is in part due to poor gut health. Our guts are assaulted daily with caffeine, sugar, processed foods and chemicals (I am writing this as I drink a coffee, case in point!). Over time these toxins build up and cause damage to the lining of our GUT. Conditions such as gastroenteritis, coeliac and gluten sensitivity also damage the intestinal lining, and may cause transient lactose intolerance.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
· Abdominal pain
· Diarrhoea or constipation – can alternate
· Skin break outs
· Flu like symptoms, especially sinus pain and congestion
· Snoring – due to throat swelling
· Poor concentration and memory – particularly in children.
Diagnosis of lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed via a non-invasive breath test. The patient drinks some lactose, and over the next few hours the amount of hydrogen excreted is recorded. If the levels are high, this signals that the lactose sugar was not broken down efficiently and lactose intolerance is present.
What to do now?
Once you are diagnosed with lactose intolerance, the fun begins. The first thing to do is remove dairy from your diet completely. You may notice that your symptoms reduce or disappear quite quickly. However your digestive tract still needs some help to heal. Specific nutritional and herbal medicines will assist in this process, and this is where your naturopath can really assist your healing.
Diary is in a lot of food products, and so you may also feel somewhat daunted at the thought of having to remove it completely. Your health food store will have a range of breads and other dairy free products.
Please know that there are plenty of milk alternatives that you can use. The following is a list of readily available milk
· Oat milk
· Rice milk
· Soy milk – I only recommend the Bonsoy brand
· Almond milk
· Other nut milks – hazelnut etc.
· Coconut milk
I personally am intolerant to milk, and find that Bonsoy is a fantastic substitute in coffee and tea. It is quite milky, and does not have that soy bean after taste that a lot of soy milks do.
For porridge and cereals, oat milk is great. Its also nice in smoothies, with a small amount of coconut milk added, maybe 2 tablespoons.
For cooking, rice and oat milk are good because the flavour is not strong. You will not taste it in a cake or biscuit recipe.
As far as yogurts go, Try coconut yogurt! It is really lovely, and quite rich so you don’t need a huge amount. Goat’s yogurt is also a good alternative, but it does have a strong flavour and may take some adjusting to get used to.
So there is some exciting food exploration for you to do!
After you have worked with your naturopath on healing your digestive tract, and your symptoms have dissipated, you may begin to reintroduce small amounts of dairy. Lactose free milk, yogurt and cheese are all readily available in large supermarkets, and are a good place to start. You may find that you can tolerate small amounts of these foods, or you may like to steer clear of them all together. Whichever way you choose, may good health and wellbeing be yours!
Love and Light
Ally Chick :)