Lactose intolerance affects a staggeringly huge percentage of adult population worldwide. Does it classify as a disease? Or is it an allergic reaction? Let us find out.
Putting all speculation to rest, lactose intolerance is not an allergy. In simple terms, a lactose intolerant individual is anyone who cannot digest milk. Lactose intolerance is a condition where our body does not produce the required amount of lactase, an enzyme that helps digest lactose.
Is Lactose Intolerance a Disease?
Technically speaking, it is not a disease. If you are ‘intolerant’, it means that your body is not adequately secreting a particular enzyme that is required in the digestion process. It also does not initiate an immune response involving antibodies. The occurrence of lactose intolerance has become so common, that it cannot be considered a disease. Lactose intolerance in its mild form does not need any medical attention too. As it is a deficiency, it is permanent in nature. A controlled diet is known to provide relief.
How Does Lactose Intolerance Differ From an Allergy?
What is causing all this confusion, then? Well, most of us tend to confuse lactose intolerance with milk allergy, assuming both to be the same. Obviously, they are two very different conditions. The constituents of milk, protein in particular, triggers an allergic reaction in some people. On the other hand, intolerance to lactose means an inability to digest it. Here is a list of differences between the two.
|Points of Distinction||Lactose Intolerance||Milk Allergy|
|What is it?||Difficulty in digesting lactose||Reaction to proteins or other constituents in milk|
|Observed in||People of all ages||Mostly infants|
|Occurrence||Very widespread; it is now considered normal as well||Rare; if present, it can pose a threat to life, if it involves anaphylaxis|
|Symptoms||Bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramps||Rashes, vomiting, hives, gastric problems|
|System of diagnosis||Stool test, Hydrogen breath test||Blood test, Skin prick test|
|Milk and dairy consumption||Can be consumed in small proportions||Milk and products derived from it to be totally avoided|
|Medication||Lactase supplements prove helpful||No medication is available|
|Duration||Usually permanent||Symptoms mostly vanish in infancy, adults are usually unable to get rid of it|
Lactose Intolerance Facts
Now that the disease/ allergy confusion has been cleared, here a few facts about lactose intolerance that will help you understand it further.
♦ Most mammals often become lactose intolerant after they have been weaned.
♦ A small percentage of lactose intolerant people can digest lactose, albeit in meager quantities.
♦ You would come across a surprisingly low number of Northern Europeans suffering from this condition. The reason? Genetics play a part here as Europeans have been traditionally known to incorporate a lot of dairy products in their everyday meals.
♦ Premature babies are more prone to lactose intolerance, as an increase in the level of lactase occurs in the third trimester.
♦ Often, people mistake the symptoms of lactose intolerance to those of irritable bowel syndrome.
♦ Yogurt (not the frozen kind) with a live bacterial content is an excellent source of calcium for lactose intolerant individuals as the bacterial presence in it helps the digestion of lactose.
♦ Many people remain blissfully unaware of their intolerance to milk. This happens because the consumption of dairy products in small amounts often does not create any problem for several people.
♦ It can possibly be caused after you suffer from intestinal diseases like diarrhea, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or undergo chemotherapy.
♦ Sometimes, lactose intolerant people can consume dairy products along with a meal.
Lactose intolerance is not a disease, it is not an allergy. It classifies as a syndrome that does not bother you too much, provided you religiously stick to a lactose intolerance diet. All you need to do is perfect the art of keeping all milk products at bay.