Lactose intolerance plagues 65% of the U.S. population. Even though the likelihood of lactose intolerance is high, many people experience very mild symptoms and may live their whole lives without realizing they are intolerant to lactose. Educating yourself about the symptoms of lactose intolerance will help you identify whether or not your health is being impacted by this common issue.
Many products that are popular in American diets contain lactose. If your body is sensitive to lactose, removing it from your diet could make a positive impact on your health. Read on to learn the symptoms of lactose intolerance, how to identify them, and when you should talk to your doctor.
Common Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
The reason so many people have lactose intolerance and don’t realize it is because the symptoms of lactose intolerance look a lot like common indigestion. Lactose intolerance symptoms include:
- Stomach pain
For those who have extreme lactose intolerance, the symptoms could include things like:
- Joint pain
- Skin issues (such as eczema)
Because the symptoms of lactose intolerance are fairly commonplace, they can be easy to ignore. It’s important to listen to your body’s cues if you are experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis. While lactose intolerance isn’t a serious health condition, it has the same symptoms as more serious concerns like Crohn’s Disease.
Understanding how lactose intolerance is so prevalent is easy to do once you understand what it is that causes this intolerance.
What Causes Lactose Intolerance
Your small intestine is in charge of breaking down lactose. Lactose is a type of sugar that exists in all milk products. When you ingest anything containing lactose, your body sends in an enzyme called lactase to break down the lactose into simpler sugars that can then be absorbed by your digestive system. If you don’t produce enough lactase, your body can’t break down lactose, and when it can’t absorb the sugar, it sits in your gut and causes the symptoms listed above.
The uncommon causes of lactose intolerance are congenital and disease-related intolerance. You can inherit a lack of lactase. Diseases that affect your gut health can also cause lactase deficiency as a secondary problem.
The most common causes of lactose intolerance are genetics and age. People of Asian and African descent are less tolerant of lactose due to their genetics. The amount of lactate in our guts is also likely to decrease with age. Elderly people are especially likely to experience lactose intolerance.
It is important to determine whether or not you are lactose intolerant if you are experiencing symptoms. If the lactose in dairy is not what’s causing your symptoms, they could be linked to something more serious. Remember, your body is great at telling you when something is wrong; it’s your job to listen.
How to Tell If You Have Lactose Intolerance
There are some initial steps you can take to determine whether or not you may have lactose intolerance. Doing some at-home experimentation and documentation will help. If you need to talk to a doctor about your symptoms, you will have good data to share with the doctor that will help them to help you.
If you’re experiencing some symptoms of lactose intolerance, here are three things to try:
- Keep a daily food journal. Noting what you eat and how you feel afterwards is the best way to track how your symptoms are or aren’t related to the food you are eating.
- Try an elimination diet. Try cutting out dairy and foods that include lactose for a few weeks and see if your symptoms improve. Try to keep everything else in your life the same. Stress, lack of sleep, and other lifestyle components can also cause indigestion and symptoms of an unhealthy gut.
- Reintroduce dairy/lactose slowly. If your body responds positively to you cutting dairy out of your diet, try reintroducing it slowly. If your symptoms start to come back, you’ll be able to safely tie your symptoms to eating dairy.
Be cautious; lactose can appear in foods you may not expect. Even things like breads and items labeled as “non-dairy” can still contain lactose. Read labels carefully when you cut out lactose. It may also be helpful to do some family research if you have access to your direct relatives. If someone else in your family has an intolerance to lactose that has already been diagnosed, it could be a good clue into your own health.
However, this can go the other way. If you have relatives with more serious diseases such as Crohn’s or celiac disease, it could mean your symptoms are more serious than just your gut protesting over too much ice cream.
When to Talk to Your Doctor About Lactose Intolerance
If you have any serious symptoms, such as constant fatigue, joint pain, or headaches, you should talk to your doctor right away. If your symptoms are on the milder side with indigestion, gas, and skin issues, you could try doing your at-home research before talking to your doctor.
You should talk to your doctor right away if your gut health doesn’t improve when you cut out lactose, as this could mean there’s something more serious than an intolerance going on. Even if you determine that you feel better when you keep lactose out of your diet, it’s a good thing to mention to your doctor. The more they know about your health, the more holistically they can care for you as a patient.
Looking for a doctor’s office you can trust to help when you aren’t feeling well? Look to Camas Swale Medical Clinic. We’re here to care for you.