Are you really lactose intolerant?

Anyone suffering from lactose intolerance experiences digestive problems when they eat dairy products, such as milk, cheese, butter, yogurt and ice cream. Lactose is a commonly found in other foods as well.

Therefore, anyone with this condition needs to carefully look at food labels. You can commonly find lactose in breakfast cereals, sauces, cookies, breads and ready meals that use dairy products.

Being lactose intolerance is fairly common. In fact, it is thought to affect about 65 percent of the world’s population. Due to how common it is, many people often think they are lactose intolerant when they are not. This is because the symptoms of lactose intolerance are similar to other conditions. If you think you may be lactose intolerant, make sure to consult a health care professional before self-diagnosing. The following information informs you on how lactose intolerance symptoms do not always mean you are lactose intolerant. You could have conditions such as Crohn’s disease or a casein allergy, or you may just need to improve your diet.

The Causes of Lactose Intolerance

There are two main types of lactose intolerance, primary and secondary. Both have different causes. Primary lactose intolerance is the most common type. Aging can cause lactose intolerance because the older you get, the more your lactase production decreases. This means lactose is poorly absorbed by your body. Primary lactose intolerance could also partially be caused by genes. This is thought to be the case because it is more common in some of the world’s populations than others.

The second type of lactose intolerance is not common. Secondary lactose intolerance is caused by illness. It can be caused by a minor illness, such as a stomach bug, or a more severe condition like celiac disease.

Casein Allergy and Sensitivity

Many people who believe they are lactose intolerant actually have a casein allergy or sensitivity. This is most often due to more people having heard of lactose intolerance in comparison to casein allergies or sensitivity. Although the two conditions share some similarities in the way they affect your body, there are ways of telling the two conditions apart.

Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk products. Casein is a protein contained in milk. If you are lactose intolerant, your small intestine cannot digest lactose properly after you have digested a dairy product. This is because not enough lactase is produced by your body. Lactase is the enzyme responsible for the absorption of lactose.

The severity of lactose intolerance is dependent on the individual. Some lactose intolerant people can still digest small amounts of dairy products without experiencing any problems, while others cannot digest any dairy products at all. Additionally, symptoms can be more or less severe depending on your tolerance level. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Bloating.
  • Gas.

Sensitivity and allergic reactions to casein include the same symptoms, but also a few others as well. An allergic reaction to casein can cause symptoms such as:

  • Swollen mouth, lips or tongue.
  • A skin rash.
  • Watery and itchy eyes.
  • A runny nose.

In severe cases, a casein allergy can cause anaphylaxis. This fast-moving and life-threatening allergic reaction can cause death if left untreated for too long. It includes the above symptoms for casein allergy and some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance, such as abdominal pain and bloating.

If you cannot consume dairy because of lactose intolerance, there are many dairy-free versions of foods like cheese and milk available. Some cheeses are even naturally low in lactose. It is a little harder to find foods to eat if you have a casein allergy because many packaged foods contain casein, such as cereals, breads and salad dressings. If you have a casein allergy, talk to a health care professional about what foods you can safely eat.

Whey

You may think you are lactose intolerant when you actually have a whey allergy. Cows’ milk contains two main proteins known for causing an allergic reaction. Casein is one, while the other is whey. Whey is the liquid part of the milk that stays in the milk after it has been curdled. Whey is found in many processed foods.

A whey allergy means your body does not recognize the protein. Instead, your immune system believes the whey is a harmful invader and goes into attack mode. An allergic reaction to whey can cause the mouth to be irritated, leading to a swelling of the lips or tongue. Other symptoms include feeling nauseous, vomiting and itchy eyes.

Crohn’s Disease

You may mistake the symptoms of lactose intolerance with the symptoms of Crohn’s disease because they share many of the same symptoms, such as cramping, bloating, diarrhea and gas. Crohn’s disease is much more serious than lactose intolerance. It is a chronic disease that causes inflamed bowels, and this condition can cause severe illness or disability if left untreated.

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To complicate matters further, anyone with Crohn’s disease is more likely to be lactose intolerant. Crohn’s disease does have symptoms not attributed to lactose intolerance. Anyone suffering from Crohn’s disease may experience symptoms such as:

  • Mucus or blood in the stool.
  • A loss of appetite.
  • Fever.
  • Unintentional weight loss.
  • Anemia.
  • Fatigue.

Other Reasons for Thinking You Are Lactose Intolerant

Researchers from the Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron in Barcelona made some interesting discoveries in one of their medical studies. Over half of the patients involved in the study who thought they were lactose intolerant were mistaken in their belief. The participants were given a lactose solution equal to a liter of milk. After drinking, they experienced less symptoms, such as gas, cramps and other bowel troubles than they normally would. Out of the 353 patients, who had all been referred to specialists for suspected lactose intolerance, 189 of them were able to absorb the lactose solution during the test.

Although there is presently no firm evidence as to why people who are able to ingest lactose would get symptoms of lactose intolerance, the researchers in the study speculated patients may be experiencing irritable bowel syndrome instead. This condition shares similar symptoms to lactose intolerance. Another possibility considered by the researchers is the symptoms are linked to a memory of earlier over-consumption.

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