The Most Misunderstood Food Malady

You have a little bloating, stomach cramping, or gas, and you remember that you drank a glass of milk a couple of hours earlier. Could you have lactose intolerance, that much-discussed malady shared by an estimated 25 percent of Americans?

Maybe. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the glass of milk is to blame for your stomach problems. In fact, a recent study found that lactose-intolerant people — who are unable to easily digest lactose, the natural sugar in milk and milk products — can tolerate having a lot more milk and milk products than previously believed. Too often, the new research suggests, people are simply too quick to blame normal intestinal rumblings on dairy

The two-week study, by researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis, asked 30 volunteers who described themselves as “severely lactose intolerant” to drink a glass of lactose-free milk with breakfast for one week and record any gastrointestinal symptoms; the next week, they drank a glass of skim milk and again recorded any symptoms. The results? There was no significant difference in symptoms between weeks one and two.

That doesn’t mean that lactose intolerance is a myth. It does mean, however, that if you have the condition you can tolerate a certain amount of dairy products.WHAT IS LACTOSE INTOLERANCE –
Lactose intolerance is common and a normal consequence of aging. At birth, we produce enough of the lactase enzyme, which our bodies need to digest lactose. Between the ages of 2 and 7, however, lactase production begins to decline; by adulthood many people have about one tenth as much as they had at infancy. This gradual decline means that when we take in more lactose than we can handle, it lingers in the digestive tract, producing abdominal cramping, bloating, gas, and diarrhea 30 minutes to two hours after eating.

But you needn’t — in fact, shouldn’t — give up dairy products if you’re a sufferer. “If people slowly increase the amount of milk they drink, they will improve their ability to tolerate it,” explains Robert Russell, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Boston’s New England Medical Center. Here, how to have your cheesecake and tolerate it too:

Have a lactose-rich food with other foods. This will give your body more time to break down the lactose. Also, eat only one lactose-rich food at a time.
Choose dairy products that are low in lactose, such as naturally aged hard cheeses like Cheddar, Gouda, and Swiss. Another good choice is yogurt with live active cultures, since they break down up to 40 percent of the lactose.
Try lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk and cheese, available in supermarkets. Also available: Lactase tablets or drops


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