There's help for lactose intolerant

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 at 4:29 p.m.
Our parents told us to drink our milk to make sure we had strong bones and teeth. Their reasons were sound, because 99 percent of the calcium we ingest is stored or used by our bones and teeth. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
But having a large ice cream cone or a serving of mac-and-cheese may make you feel uncomfortable if you suffer from lactose intolerance. By age 20, some 30 million people in America experience the disorder caused when the body cannot digest lactose, one of the sugars found in milk People in cultures where drinking milk and milk products occurred early are less likely to suffer than those from areas where dairy farming began recently. As a result, lactose intolerance is more common in Asian, African, African-American, Native-American, and Mediterranean populations than it is among northern and western Europeans.
While sufferers say it is extremely uncomfortable, it is not dangerous. The disorder is common in adults, but it can begin at any age. In Caucasians, that is usually age 5; in African Americans, as early as 2 to 3 years old.
Premature babies can have the condition, and it is less likely in full-term babies. Lactose-intolerant babies need a milk substitute. For infants younger than 2, soy formulas are good options. For toddlers, alternatives are soy or rice milk.
Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestines do not produce enough lactase. Lactase deficiency can be caused by diseases such as gastroenteritis or celiac sprue. Surgery on the intestines also may lead to this disorder.
Watch for symptoms such as abdominal bloating, excessive intestinal gas, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping and report them to your health-care provider.
The severity of the symptoms will depend on the level of intolerance. Some people can eat cheese, but not drink milk. Others tolerate milk in small amounts. Monitor your intake of food and liquids and share this information with your provider to help evaluate your condition.
Your health care provider may suggest paying attention to your intake of milk and milk products. Some milk in our diet on a regular basis provides us not only with calcium and vitamin D, but protein and riboflavin, or B2, as well.
In order to have your ice cream or mac-and-cheese, you may need to take an oral lactase preparation. Several are offered as over-the-counter medications. Other solutions are lactose-free foods which are available now, much more so than just a few years ago.
Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing at Santa Fe Community College.

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