Why Some People Are Lactose Intolerant

We all start out drinking milk in one form or another. So why do so many of us seem to “grow into” lactose intolerance? Lactose intolerance, as you may know, results in the digestive discomfort that comes from consuming lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products.

Most people in the U.S. are born with the ability to digest lactose. Infants naturally produce an enzyme called lactase in their systems that enables them to break down lactose, which is present in breast milk, in addition as cow’s milk. Infants who may be lactose intolerant are fed lactose-free commercially prepared formulas, often containing soy milk.

As the years go by, the incidence of intolerance in the population increases. That’s because our bodies are genetically programmed to produce less and less lactase as we mature. ultimately we start to experience the symptoms of intolerance when we drink milk or eat ice cream, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, or other dairy products. The symptoms are uncomfortable – gas, bloating, cramps and diarrhea – and at times, embarrassing.

Since not everyone becomes lactose intolerant, what determines who is at risk for developing the telltale digestive discomfort that comes from consuming foods with lactose? Researchers have discovered some interesting findings about lactose intolerance:

Postmenopausal women are more likely to start to experience the symptoms of intolerance compared to men in the same age group. However, lactase production slows down as part of the natural aging course of action for both and women.

Ethnic descent can determine who will develop lactose intolerance. Descendants of Northern European countries are less likely to develop intolerance until later in life. In cultures where dairy products were not typically consumed after weaning, the body naturally produces less of the lactase enzyme. These percentages show the prevalence of lactose intolerance among certain ethnic groups:

•Chinese: 95%

•Native Americans: 90%

•Asian-Americans: 90%

•South Americans: 75%

•African-Americans: 75%

•Hispanics: 55%

Infection and digestive tract disorders can cause a drop in the level of lactase production, already if only temporarily. If your body isn’t generating this enzyme, you will probably experience the symptoms of intolerance.

Some antibiotics can block the body’s ability to produce lactase while they are in your system.

New research continues to give us insight into the likelihood of developing lactose intolerance. A statement released by The National Institutes of Health during its conference in February of 2010 on “Lactose Intolerance and Health” discusses the prevalence of lactose intolerance by race, ethnicity and age.

You can also learn more about lactose intolerant from people who have discovered how to cope with it successfully. On the website for Lactagen, a program that makes it possible for people who are lactose intolerant to eat dairy products comfortably, people of various ages and ethnicities proportion their stories: a mother of a child diagnosed with intolerance, a chemotherapy patient, and a physician, among others.

For those who have experienced the digestive discomfort of intolerance and wondered “Why me?” it’s comforting to understand the reasons for intolerance. If you’ve longed for the days when you could enjoy dairy products, consider exploring programs like Lactagen. You can’t turn back the clock or change your genetic history, but you can target strategies for managing the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

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