Lactose intolerance is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a condition that occurs when the body is unable to properly digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. While lactose intolerance is common, many people wonder how it develops and why some people are more prone to it than others. In this blog post, we will explore the scientific reasons behind the development of lactose intolerance.
1. How did humans develop lactose intolerance?
To understand how lactose intolerance develops, it is important to understand how lactose is digested in the body. The digestion of lactose requires an enzyme called lactase, which is produced in the small intestine. When lactase breaks down lactose, it is broken down into two simple sugars, glucose and galactose, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.
Lactose intolerance occurs when the body does not produce enough lactase to properly digest lactose. This can be due to a variety of factors, including genetics, age, and health conditions.
- Genetics: People of certain ethnicities, such as those of Asian, African, and Native American descent, are more likely to be lactose intolerant. This is because these populations historically consumed less dairy products, and therefore had less of a need to produce lactase. On the other hand, people of European descent are less likely to be lactose intolerant, as dairy products have been a staple in their diets for generations.
- Age: is another factor that can contribute to lactose intolerance. As we age, our bodies naturally produce less lactase. This means that even if we were not lactose intolerant as children, we may develop symptoms of lactose intolerance later in life.
- Health conditions: people with celiac disease, Crohn's disease, or other conditions that damage the small intestine may have reduced lactase production. Additionally, some people may develop lactose intolerance temporarily after a gastrointestinal illness, as the illness can damage the small intestine and reduce lactase production.
2. What happens if we ignore lactose intolerance?
If you ignore lactose intolerance and continue to consume lactose-containing foods, you may experience uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms. These symptoms can include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
The severity of these symptoms can vary depending on the individual's level of lactase deficiency and how much lactose is consumed. In some cases, symptoms can be mild and may only occur when large amounts of lactose are consumed. In other cases, symptoms can be severe and may occur even with small amounts of lactose.
Ignoring lactose intolerance can also lead to long-term health consequences. Chronic exposure to lactose can cause inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining, which can increase the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other gastrointestinal disorders.
3. How to prevent lactose intolerance from bothering you?
- Limit dairy intake: Reducing the amount of dairy products consumed can help to manage lactose intolerance symptoms. This can include avoiding or limiting milk, cheese, and ice cream.
- Choose lactose-free products: Many grocery stores offer lactose-free versions of common dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Take lactase supplements: Lactase supplements are available over-the-counter and can help to break down lactose in the digestive system. They can be taken before consuming dairy products.
- Experiment with plant-based alternatives: There are many non-dairy alternatives to milk and other dairy products available, such as almond milk, soy milk, and coconut milk.
- Increase calcium intake: Since calcium is an important nutrient found in dairy products, it is important to ensure that the body gets enough calcium from other sources such as dark leafy greens, almonds, and fortified products.
- Consider probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help to improve gut health and digestion. Some studies suggest that probiotics can help to improve lactose intolerance symptoms.