If you regularly get diarrhoea (or are just loose), abdomen pain, bloating and a lot of wind, you might think you’ve got IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). If you haven’t already excluded it, you might have lactose intolerance. It’s well worth looking into this if you think you have IBS as it could quickly end your suffering.
What is Lactose
Lactose is sugar found in milk. It can’t be absorbed into our body until it is broken down into 2 simple sugars – glucose and galactose. Lactose is broken down into these 2 simple sugars by an enzyme called lactase and once this has happened they are absorbed into our blood stream.
Why are some people intolerant?
It is normal for babies to consume milk. It is rare for a baby to be lactose intolerant (although it can happen). As babies grow and are weaned they drink less and less milk. Thousands of years ago it wasn’t normal for older children and adults to still be drinking milk so it is not unusual for some of us to lose lactase. Many of us do keep it, but a significant number of us don’t.
It’s those of us that lose the enzyme lactase who become intolerant. This is in fact a normal thing for people – we didn’t evolve to still be drinking milk (and eating milk products) beyond infancy. In these people lactose passes into the colon, where it shouldn’t be, and causes havoc.
It is also common to become temporarily lactose intolerant after a bout of diarrhoea and vomiting. If symptoms aren’t settling down after an illness like this it’s worth cutting out lactose for a couple of weeks to let you body heal itself and get back to normal.
I think I might be intolerant, what shall I do?
It’s easy – cut all lactose out for 1-2 weeks and see what happens. You will need to cut out milk and all milk products like yoghurt, cheese, butter. Don’t forget milk products are hidden in all sorts of processed foods like biscuits and cakes.
If your symptoms settle they are likely to be due to intolerance. The way to confirm is start having milk and its products again – your symptoms will come back.
A lot of people find that once the symptoms have been eliminated, by being lactose free for a week or two, they can get away with small amounts without triggering the symptoms. Everyone is different so it’s about finding out what works for you.
Comments and questions welcomed
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