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Have you noticed gastrointestinal dysfunction after consuming dairy? As much as 57% of the worlds population feels your pain! 

Each person presents with different symptoms and the severity is variable and dependant on several factors, but most people report abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, intestinal distension, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea and vomiting.

Despite the commonality of this intolerance it’s often self-diagnosed. It’s important to get accurate tests done by your health provider to diagnose your lactose intolerance because you run the risk of miss-diagnosing other serious illnesses and GI diseases such as coeliacs disease. 

Additionally, patients with untreated lactose intolerance may develop adverse symptoms such as, memory deterioration, headaches, musculoskeletal pain, depression, anxiety, ulcers in the oral mucosa, and heart rhythm disorders. Not the mention the pain and discomfort every time you consume foods containing dairy products! Appropriate diagnosis and treatment with dietary/lifetsyle interventions are required to reduce the development of such symptoms and to manage adequate nutritional status.

The common understanding of lactose intolerance is that you have a reduced or absent  amount of the enzyme, Lactase. In the small intestine the Lactase enzyme breaks down the disaccharide – lactose – into monosaccharide molecules – glucose & galactose – which are then digested in the large intestine to be sent off to be used as fuel (energy). This further metabolism of monosaccharides cannot occur if you lack the lactase enzyme. 

If the lactose disaccharides are not broken down in the small intestine by lactase enzyme they are broken down in the large intestine instead. This process causes an influx of water into the large intestine, then the colonic microbiome ferment the molecules, which produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) and GAS – Thus contribute to intestinal bloating & distension.

The physiological reaction of lactose intolerance is painful, uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing. You may form a negative association with dairy due to the anticipated adverse reaction. This association may lead to unhealthy food avoidance behaviours and disordered eating patterns. The avoidance of dairy products can be detrimental to health and development because dairy is one of the biggest contributors of nutrients such as Calcium, B-12, Zinc, Vitamin-A & Vitamin-D. Additionally, avoidance eating behaviours often eliminate many other foods that would contribute to a healthy balanced diet, leading to nutrient deficiency and malnutrition. A number of studies show an increase in osteoporosis among those with dairy-avoidance behaviours due to lactose intolerance [1]

But why would you not avoid something that is hurting you, you ask?

I’m here to tell you, you don’t need to avoid all dairy. It’s recommended that you consume a reduced amount or consume substituted/alternative options. There are also many non-dairy approaches for lactose intolerance management that can provide similar nutrient values as dairy. Above all, It’s important to maintain a healthy balanced diet if you’re diagnosed with lactose intolerance to ensure all essential nutrients are being consumed.

Below are 7 ways to go about managing your intolerance by altering your diet instead of letting the intolerance alter your life. 

[1] Temporary lactose-free diet to obtain remission of symptoms (3-7 days)

[2] Gradual introduction of cow milk (from 30 to 250 ml/day) which should be consumed together with other foods to slow the release of lactose in the small intestine

[3] Consumption of aged cheese, which contains a lower percent of lactose

[4] Consumption of lactose-free milk products, which are nutritionally identical to milk products.

[5] Consumption of fermented products like greek yogurt and Kefir, which are also a source of probiotics and prebiotics, and both exert beneficial effects on gastrointestinal microflora [2, 3, 4]

[6] Enzyme supplementation – Lactase from nonhuman sources to break down lactose. This enzymatic compound is obtained from yeast (Kluyveromyces lactis) or fungi (Aspergillus oryzae, Aspergillus niger

[7] Consumption of calcium fortified soy milk, soy products & alternative nut milks.

It’s important to seek advice and guidance by a professional to ensure you have accurate and personalised options for you’re bodies requirements. Karyn Campbell is the Naturopath here at Diamond Creek Natural Medicine Centre and has a wealth of knowledge on gut health and GI dysfunction and assists people with natural therapies to get their gut back in balance.