How to cope with being lactose intolerant

For many New Zealanders, dairy products are a prominent part of our diets. But some of us who experience uncomfortable symptoms - like bloating and abdominal pain - may not realise that milk-based foods could be to blame.

Could you be lactose intolerant?
Do you frequently have a sore stomach and suffer from diarrhoea? Are you often embarrassed by bouts of flatulence? Does your tummy stick out so much you look like you're pregnant? These can all be symptoms of a variety of gastrointestinal conditions or diseases, but one possible cause is an intolerance to lactose.
What is lactose intolerance?It means your body can't properly digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. This is due to a deficiency of an enzyme called lactase, which breaks lactose into simpler forms of sugar so it can be absorbed into your blood. It's possible to have a lactase shortage, but not suffer lactose intolerance symptoms.

Why do some people get it?
There are two types of lactase deficiency and it appears that people who have the sort known as "primary" may have inherited the gene that causes it. Their bodies usually begin to produce less lactase after the age of two, but often they don't notice any symptoms until they're adolescents or adults.
Secondary lactase deficiency is the result of damage to the small intestine, possibly due to an illness such as coeliac or Crohn's disease, or even a very severe bout of diarrhoea.

How do you know you're lactose intolerant?
If you have frequent symptoms like stomach cramps, abdominal pain, wind, diarrhoea and nausea, then there are several tests your doctor can perform to diagnose lactose intolerance.
These include measuring the amount of glucose in your blood or hydrogen in your breath after drinking a liquid containing lactose.
What treatment is available?
There's no cure for lactose intolerance, but you can manage your symptoms by changing your diet to avoid or cut down on milk-based products. You may not need to eliminate dairy products completely - the amount of lactose people can tolerate varies from person to person.
It may take some trial and error to work out how much lactose affects you and what particular dairy products may trigger symptoms.
There are also other foods that may contain small, hidden" amounts of lactose. These include:
  • Bread
  • Cereals
  • Processed meats
  • Lollies
  • oargarine
  • Salad dressings
Lactase enzyme tablets and drops have been developed to help with the digestion of lactose and can be taken along with milk-based products.
How do you get enough calcium if you can't eat dairy products?
other calcium sources include:
  • Salmon and other fish with soft edible bones
  • Shrimp
  • oysters
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Bok choy
  • Tofu
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