What Does it Mean to be Lactose Intolerant

What is Lactose

Lactose is sugar that can be found in milk. It is a molecule made of two smaller molecules called glucose and galactose that are also sugars. In order for our intestines to process lactose, an enzyme called lactase has to break lactose molecules into glucose and galactose.

Glucose is an ingredient in some other foods such as rice, potatoes, sugar, bread, cookies, etc. However, galactose can only be found in lactose. The main purpose of these sugars is to provide energy for our body. Galactose is also important for the normal functioning of our nerves and immune system. It can be found in our blood cells, and it determines the blood type.

What is Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is one’s inability to digest lactose. Patients who suffer from lactose intolerance have lower levels of lactase or do not produce it at all. They cannot break lactose molecules inside their intestines, and consequently, it remains in its primary form. Lactose then gets broken down by bacteria. This process causes unpleasant symptoms, such as:

  • Pain
  • Gasses
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramps

Lactose intolerance rarely occurs among children, but it is a quite often condition in adults of both sexes. It is even considered a part of the aging process.

What Causes Lactose Intolerance

There are several causes of lactose intolerance:

  • Ethnicity—people with Asian, Hispanic, African American or Native American background tend to suffer from this condition more often than others.
  • Different diseases of the gastrointestinal tract—people with Celiac or Chrone’s disease have reduced levels of lactase in their intestines.
  • Lactose intolerance can be caused by antibiotics, and in that case, it is only a temporary condition.
  • Another frequent cause of lactose intolerance is age because the body eventually stops producing lactase.

Symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after a meal, and their severity depends on the amount of lactose consumed and how much of the enzyme is produced.


The treatment begins after diagnosing lactose intolerance. This is done by lactose tolerance, hydrogen breath, or stool acidity test. It includes certain lifestyle changes including avoiding dairy products especially milk and adding a special powder into milk that will break down the lactose.

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A patient will also have to find other calcium sources including broccoli, oranges, spinach, canned salmon, etc. Using almond, rice, or soy milk is recommended. Vitamin D supplements are also an option.


Lactose is sugar found in milk and other dairy products. It is a large molecule that is broken down into two smaller ones—glucose and galactose in our intestines by the enzyme lactase. If a person for some reason does not produce enough lactase, they become lactose intolerant. Symptoms of lactose intolerance are not life-threatening, but can be unpleasant. Some of the signs of this condition include diarrhea, stomach cramps and pain. Treatment includes reduction of dairy intake, probiotics, and calcium and vitamin D supplements.

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