Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose sugar due to the non-production of the digestive lactase enzyme. In lactase deficiency, therefore, lactose cannot be digested and absorbed, leading to diarrhoea, flatulence and abdominal cramps.
Lactose intolerance is very common and is generally hereditary. In infants, lactase levels are high, allowing them to easily digest milk; however, these levels are significantly reduced after weaning so that, in later years and even in adulthood, it is no longer possible to digest high amounts of lactose. As a result, most healthy adults fail to digest significant amounts of lactose and are therefore normally “lactose intolerant”.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance are accentuated by eating foods rich in lactose, such as milk, while moderate amounts of yogurt and mature cheeses are generally well tolerated. The most common symptoms are:
- colic, cramps, abdominal pain and swelling;
- diarrhea and flatulence;
The subjects with lactose intolerance can not tolerate milk and other dairy products that contain lactose. In order to make a diagnosis, it is necessary to understand if the symptoms arise after the consumption of dairy products, to then confirm intolerance through specific medical tests. You can, for example, try a period of diet free of dairy products for 3 or 4 weeks; if the symptoms disappear, and then reappear when these products are reintroduced, intolerance is very likely.
The diagnosis must however be confirmed by a specialist doctor; The most common test that is used for this is the Breath Test, or breath test.
The therapy to combat lactose intolerance includes, first and foremost, the exclusion from the diet of foods containing lactose, mainly cow’s milk, goat’s milk, fresh dairy products, ice cream, cream and many desserts and biscuits containing milk. It is also necessary to pay attention to the consumption of cooked and stuffed hams, where lactose is added as an additive in order to maintain the right softness of the meat; other foods, such as pre-cooked foods, some types of bread and many drugs can also contain lactose. Yogurt, on the other hand, is often tolerated because it naturally contains lactase, produced by Lactobacilli. It is also important to take calcium supplements to prevent the deficiency.
Another effective solution is represented by lactase enzyme supplements: they are available without a prescription and can be taken when eating or drinking products containing lactose , so as to be able to digest them.