Reduced activity of lactase or lower levels of lactase in the body, an enzyme that splits milk sugar-lactose into glucose and galactose, leads to an incapability of the digestive system for digesting and absorbing lactose. Depending on the amount of lactose consumed, the size and fat content of the meal and the extent to which an individual’s body can tolerate lactose, symptoms associated with lactose intolerance may range from being mild to severe.
These symptoms manifest at different ages and also vary with different ethnic groups.The discomfort and uneasiness associated with lactose intolerance lasts for about 30 minutes to two hours after consuming milk and food products containing milk, during which the following gastro-intestinal symptoms can be observed in most lactose-intolerant people.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
Lactose in the food passes through the intestine without being broken down due to the lack of enough lactase on the intestinal lining. This lactose reaches the colon, an area predominantly inhabited by bacteria, which via their capability of breaking down lactose, utilize the glucose and galactose as a source of energy. However, they also release hydrogen gas as a by-product, a certain portion of which is used up by the bacteria.
The rest of the gas is absorbed by the colon and is expelled via the lungs as a part of your breath. However, the unabsorbed gas is released as flatulence through the colon. Also, certain other bacteria in the colon are capable of producing methane and hydrogen gas during the breakdown of lactose thereby, enabling the body to excrete only methane or both hydrogen and methane through the breath or passed out in the form of gas or flatus.
When consumed in excess amounts, the existing bacteria in the colon cannot metabolize all the lactose present in the food, leading to the accumulation of excess, undigested lactose in the colon. Through osmosis, the colon draws water from the surrounding areas resulting in the passing of bulky and watery or loose stools that leads to diarrhea. Moreover, the build-up of lactose in the colon leads to the secretion of rotten and an odd-smelling stool.
Intolerance for dairy products containing lactose can lead to severe pains or cramps in the lower belly. The abdominal pain sets in, when a person suffering from lactose intolerance loses track of their diet intake and ends up loading their stomach with lactose.
This in turn, over burdens the colon with extra lactose, which exerts pressure on the abdomen, thus leading to abdominal cramps.
Abdominal Bloating and Distension
The feeling of fullness in your stomach or bloating results from the accumulation of lactose, which is not readily broken down due to the deficiency of lactase enzyme. This dramatically slows down the rate of absorption of lactose in the intestine, leading to the fermentation of lactose that produces excess amount of gas in the abdomen.
The gas is sent out of the body either through the air we breathe out or as flatus. The remaining amount of gas gradually starts stretching the abdominal layers in order to accommodate the gas. This leads to the distension or the swelling of the abdominal region.
The excruciating pain in the abdomen can lead to nausea, a sensation of uneasiness and discomfort in the upper abdominal region that is accompanied by an involuntary urge to vomit. This serves as a body’s defense mechanism to get rid of the excess lactose in the abdomen that is primarily responsible for causing all the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.
Besides the aforementioned symptoms, other minor symptoms associated with lactose intolerance include a rumbling stomach or borborygmi, vomiting in adolescents, etc. Now that you are well aware of the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance, gradually introduce small amounts of milk and milk products in your diet to check the levels of lactose that your body can tolerate without showing any of the aforementioned symptoms.
However, consuming milk and milk products during meal times can help your body absorb lactose at a quicker rate thereby, allowing your body to adapt to higher levels of lactose and showing fewer symptoms on the consumption of lactose. Also, bear in mind that these symptoms can be caused by other medical illnesses and conditions thus, making it mandatory for you to get your condition diagnosed by a doctor before starting an appropriate treatment.