What does being lactose intolerant mean???

It is the inability of the human body to digest lactose, a component of milk and some other dairy products.

Lactose is a sugar present in the milk of most mammals. Being lactose intolerant is a condition wherein the person is characterized by symptoms such as stomach pain, gas, diarrhoea and bloating which are caused by lactose malabsorption. Lactase, an enzyme is responsible for the breaking down of lactose. It is of most importance in infants, who need lactase to digest breast milk.

Listed below are the 5 most common symptoms of being lactose intolerant:

1. Stomach Pain and Bloating: Stomach pain and bloating are common symptoms of lactose intolerance. When the body is unable to break down lactose, it passes through the stomach until it reaches the colon. Lactose cannot be absorbed by the cells lining the colon, but they can be broken down by the bacteria present there. This causes the release of fatty acids, hydrogen and carbon dioxide that cause stomach pain and cramps.

2. Diarrhea: Lactose intolerance causes diarrhea by increasing the volume of water in the colon, which increases the volume and liquid content of the stool. It is more common in babies and growing kids than in adults. The good news is that not all carbohydrates that cause diarrhea come from lactose.

3. Gas: The chemical breakdown of lactose in the colon gives rise to the production of the hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide. Gases produced from the breakdown of lactose have no odour. Rather the odour comes from the breakdown of proteins in the gut, not carbohydrates.

4. Constipation: Constipation is marked by hard, infrequent stools, feelings of incomplete bowel movements, stomach discomfort, bloating and excessive straining. This is due to the presence of Methane gas produced by undigested lactose that slows down the time and takes food to move through the gut, leading to constipation.

5. Other Symptoms: Although the main symptoms of lactose intolerance are gastrointestinal in nature, there are some other symptoms too such as :

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of concentration
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Problems urinating
  • Eczema