Monthly Archives: March 2014

Living with Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine does not produce adequate amounts of an enzyme called lactase, making it more difficult for the body to digest lactose. Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar in milk and dairy products, and it’s extremely common in diets from all over the globe. With less lactase in the body, most lactose in the food being eaten is moved unprocessed into the colon. At this point, naturally occurring bacteria interact with this lactose, resulting in bloating, gas, and diarrhea—the primary external symptoms of lactose intolerance. Low levels of lactase may occur as symptoms of other intestinal disorders, viral, or bacterial, infection, sand cystic fibrosis. Some individuals with symptoms of milk intolerance or allergy are sensitive to the milk protein, casein, rather than milk sugar.

To be sure, people of Northern and Southern European decent are the least likely demographic to be born with or develop lactose intolerance. This is a result of centuries of being exposed to the advent of farming and the maintenance of livestock in European areas. To this day, North Americans and Northern Europeans are the only mammals that drink the milk as adults and many proponents of natural therapies and alternative medicine feel that milk consumption is unnecessary for healthy adults.

In general, there are three types of lactose intolerance, outlined below:

Primary lactose intolerance: The human body typically produces higher amounts of lactase at birth and during early childhood development, as milk is generally an infant’s primary source of nutrition. As a person ages, their diet grows and becomes more varied. Lactase production naturally decreases due to the fact that the individual has become less reliant on milk as his or her primary staple. There is a gradual decline in lactase levels over time that may ultimately manifest as symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Secondary lactose intolerance: Sometimes, when the body encounters illness, surgery, or injury to the small intestine, the body will naturally decrease its production of lactase, resulting in symptoms of lactose intolerance. IBS, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease—to name a few—can all cause the small intestine to produce less lactase. If an individual seeks out treatment for their intestinal distress, oftentimes lactase levels may restore themselves and the painful symptoms of lactose intolerance will improve.

Congenital lactose intolerance: Occasionally, babies are born with a complete (or nearly complete) absence of lactase activity. This rare condition is passed down generationally as an autosomal recessive gene trait. In order for this type of lactose intolerance to occur, both parents must be lactose intolerant themselves. Babies born with an inability to produce lactase will get sick from breast milk and will typically require lactose-free infant formulas. Another factor to consider with babies that are born lactose intolerant is whether or not they were born premature. Premature babies have a propensity to have decreased lactase production from birth.

Self Help

Currently, no treatment exists for lactose intolerance that would allow an individual’s body to product more lactase. Individuals with lactose intolerance generally find the most relief from abstaining from dairy products and finding lactose-free substitutes for their diet. Below are some of the primary ways a person living with lactose intolerance can seek relief from their symptoms:

  • Some people aren’t as sensitive to yogurt and cheese products. Eliminating milk before eliminating these dairy products may allow an individual to have a more varied diet, despite the fact that their body doesn’t produce a typical amount of lactase.
  • Try substituting goat’s milk for cow’s milk. Many people find that goat or sheep milk will elicit less of an allergic reaction than cow’s milk.
  • If symptoms persist, completely eliminating dairy products in exchange for alternatives like soy, rice, or almond milk may be the key.
  • Watch out for hidden lactose in the products you buy. Words like “whey,” “milk byproduct,” “fat-free dry milk powder,” or “milk solids” all indicate products that probably contain lactase.
  • Try and over-the-counter lactase enzyme supplement. These supplements come in tablet or liquid form and may aide in the digestion of dairy products.

If getting your daily intake of calcium and vitamin D are major concerns of yours, there are a surprising number of foods without lactose that will supply you with an adequate dose of these essential vitamins and minerals. Some of these foods include:

  • Broccoli
  • Canned salmon
  • Oranges
  • White beans
  • Kale
  • Seaweed
  • Foods fortified with calcium (e.g., orange juice, instant oatmeal, tofu, and soymilk)

Western Treatments

Lactose intolerance is perhaps one of the few common conditions that typically cannot be treated with invasive Western treatments. As mentioned above, there are over-the-counter tablets and liquids that people with lactose intolerance can try, but these remedies do not work for everyone. As a general rule, those living with lactose intolerance are instructed by their health care practitioner to abstain from consuming dairy products, seeking calcium and vitamin D from alternative sources and/or fortified goods.

A Case Study in TCM Treatment

A 32-year-old woman had begun experiencing symptoms of lactose intolerance during her teens and early 20’s. Her family physician officially diagnosed her at the age of 30. The patient exhibited severe cramping, bloating, and diarrhea every time she consumed dairy products. She was prescribed an herbal combination bovine colostrum complex (IgG 25% Lactoferrin 7.1 mg/gm IGF) with the understanding that she was to abstain from all dairy products for 60 days. After the 60 day mark, she was to slowly reintroduce certain dairy products, one at a time. If there were any negative symptoms, she was to eliminate that item from her diet once again. By the end of the year, the patient reported experiencing virtually no symptoms, and was able to eat yogurt on occasion.