Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance

In 2018 I experienced high levels of stress which led to me having some digestive issues. In the beginning I just thought maybe it was a stomach bug and it will pass however this issue seemed more persistent than a regular stomach bug. I was having water pouring diarrhea (excuse for the graphics in your head right now) in the mornings almost every day, experiencing bad stomach cramps, having my stomach produce all kinds of weird sounds and bloating on the daily, at times feeling nauseous and lastly really foul-smelling farts that could probably add 5% to the methane gas contribution to the earth.  

Lactose Intolerance From A Diatician

Having my background as a dietician, I then started tracking my eating patterns as I knew it was for sure a digestive issue (colon cancer according to doctor Google). I even visited my GP who assured me that there was nothing wrong just a mere upset stomach however, I felt displeased and was not satisfied with the answer I got given. My immediate thought was to eliminate certain food groups and track my progress. So, I started eating a lot ”healthier” than before and decided to reduce my diary intake. That’s when I realized that my symptoms were much less severe than before. Back then the market and products on shelf didn’t really have many nondairy options and lactose free options and if there was, prices were just unreasonable. Due to my lack of research and being impatient to alleviate my symptoms, I was soon known as the ”adult who doesn’t eat any dairy” by my peers and family members causing a big headache for people organizing food for me at gatherings. With much further research I came to the realization that I most likely had a lactose problem, either lactose intolerant or lactose malabsorption. 

Lactose Intolerance

What is it?

Lactose is a sugar found in milk and milk products so cheese, yoghurt, custards, creams etc. Lactose intolerance is when your gut is unable doesn’t make enough or has a lack of an enzyme (lactase) used to break down lactose. Lactose malabsorption is when undigested lactose passes through your gut making it prone to fermentation. Lactose intolerance is when you have lactose malabsorption with symptoms. Symptoms of lactose intolerance can range anywhere from, diarrhea, stomach pain, headaches, fatigue, eczema amongst many others.  

Interesting enough an estimate of about 70% of the adult population show signs of a lack of the lactase enzyme. At the time of experiencing my lactose problem there was no legitimate way of testing for it with my GP who had limited access to resources in rural KZN. Today the gold standard for testing for Lactose intolerance is to use the Lactose Breath Test amongst other tests to determine diagnosis, however interpretation of these results is still challenging. 

Lactose Intolerance

What to do

In order to treat or manage Lactose Intolerance, reducing or eliminating lactose from a diet is advised. The role and help of a Dietitian is important at this point as they are able to assist and guide you on the best way forward without jeopardizing your nutritional intake of other nutrients. Most people think you can just cut out dairy and you’ll be fine, however there are many things to consider when doing this such as your calcium intake, magnesium and Vitamin D intake. As well as other nutrients that you might lose out on. Therefore, sitting down with your Dietitian is the best way to navigate this issue as it can be quite daunting (trust me). Some people find out that they can actually tolerate small amounts of milk products as different products have varying amounts of lactose in them. For example, yoghurt has a lower lactose content than milk and certain cheeses have varying lactose in them compared to other cheeses. 

Conclusion

Since then, the market and companies have realized this growing need for lactose free products on shelf and now there are a wide variety available, such as lactose free milk, yoghurt, cheese, drinking yoghurt and even saw lactose maas which I stumbled across the other day at the shops. Whatever your journey is with these types of symptoms, as I felt very alone at the time, just know that it is manageable with the help of your HCW. 

Reference: Nutritional management of Lactose Intolerance, M.Facioni, B.Raspini, F.Pivari 

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