Lactose intolerance is defined by the inability to break down lactose, a type of natural sugar. Typically, lactose is found in dairy products like, milk yogurt, and cheese. A person is lactose intolerant when the small or large intestine fails to produce the enzyme known as lactase, which is responsible for breaking down lactose. The undigested lactose will move throughout your gastrointestinal tract and causes a variety of symptoms, such as diarrhea, bloating, and gas.
Who is Lactose Intolerant?
Just about everybody has the ability to digest lactose when they’re an infant. But the majority of people begin to lose the ability to digest lactose as they become older. This is especially true for people of African, Native American, Mediterranean, and Asian descent. Europeans are the largest group of lactose tolerant people.
Types of Lactose Intolerance
There are three standard types of lactose intolerance which have different causes:
1. Primary lactose Intolerance
This is the most common type of lactose intolerance that affects the largest group of people. The majority of people are born with a predefined amount of lactase that allows them to digest their mother’s milk. The amount of lactase a person’s body produces can decrease over time because people’s diets diversify as they get older (adults tend to drink less milk).
2. Secondary Lactose Intolerance
An injury or disease like celiac disease or IBS can also cause a person to become lactose intolerant by affecting the body’s ability to produce lactase. This type of lactose intolerance is normally reversible so long as you cure the injury or disease.
3. Developmental Lactose Intolerance
This type of lactose intolerance affects newborns who were born prematurely. This happens due to the fact that lactose production in infants begins later in the pregnancy.
For most people, it is enough to just exclude dairy products from their diet if they happen to be lactose intolerant. But if you absolutely cannot give up the ice cream, there are actually lactose intolerant pills which provide your body with lactase, and help you digest dairy products.