Explainer: Lactose Intolerance

What does lactose intolerance mean? What are some of the signs that a person is lactose intolerant?

Various fresh dairy products on wooden background

In Brief

– What is lactose intolerance, causes and mitigation strategies

Late last year Kenya Cremaries Cooperative(KCC) launched a new product into the market, lactose-free milk for the lactose-intolerant people. KCC was one of the first dairy production firms in the country to launch lactose-free milk. This brought up the discussion of what lactose intolerance actually mean.

What does lactose intolerance mean? What are some of the signs that a person is lactose intolerant? and What can somebody do mitigate the side effects of this?

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Lactose intolerance is a reaction caused by the body’s inability to digest milk and its products because of a decrease in the production of the enzyme lactase.

Research has found that only about 35% of people worldwide can digest lactose beyond the age of about seven or eight.

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This is explained by the fact that as we get older, our ability to digest dairy decreases because, with age, our intestines make less of the enzyme (lactase) that processes lactose, (a type of sugar present in milk and dairy products) as a result, we have more lactose sitting in the digestive tract, hence causing the discomfort.

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Lactose intolerance signs and symptoms

Lactose intolerance leads to uncomfortable abdominal distention or bloating, cramping, pain, excessive flatulence, diarrhoea, burping and belching 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingesting dairy products.

Some people might experience acid reflux and in rare cases constipation.

Unfortunately, lactose intolerance is commonly misdiagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) due to under-recognition of this common syndrome. Therefore, for those diagnosed with IBS, it would be worthwhile avoiding dairy for one month to reassess clinical symptoms.

If you have been clinically diagnosed with lactose intolerance, it is wise for you to eliminate dairy out of your diet, however, if you cannot do that then use the lactose-free milk.