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Lactose intolerance

04 January 2019

4 lactose intolerance myths you probably believe, but shouldn’t

Is a milk allergy the same as lactose intolerance? Are the symptoms of lactose intolerance the same for everyone? We busted four myths.

Lactose intolerance occurs when the body is unable to digest and absorb lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, which results in symptoms such as diarrhoea, stomach cramps, pain, bloating and flatulence. The prevalence of lactose intolerance in South Africa is estimated to be around 11%.

We busted four lactose intolerance myths.

Myth 1: Milk allergy is the same thing as lactose intolerance.

The facts: Milk allergy and lactose intolerance are not the same. Dietitian Mariëtte Abrahams told the Huffington Post, “A milk allergy is an immune system reaction to the protein in milk or dairy products. This reaction can be severe and is usually diagnosed at an early age. Lactose intolerance is caused by a gene misspelling that can lead to the absence or reduced production of the enzyme lactase, which helps to digest dairy and other milk based products.” 

A milk allergy is quite rare and usually causes a fast reaction with symptoms like hives, swelling, vomiting, wheezing and anaphylactic shock. If you suspect a milk allergy, don’t delay getting to a doctor or a hospital. 

Myth 2: The symptoms for lactose intolerance are the same for everyone.

The facts: Everyone is different, which means that the symptoms one person will experience due to lactose intolerance will differ from those of another. You might experience an upset stomach and nausea a few hours after ingesting dairy, while someone else may have diarrhoea 30 minutes after drinking a cappuccino.  

Myth 3: I’m lactose intolerant so I should avoid milk and dairy products.

The facts: The good news if you're lactose intolerant is that you don't have to give up cow’s milk or dairy food entirely. According to the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, there are several dairy-based strategies to help you comfortably consume dairy products. They say, “consume smaller amounts of milk at a time, particularly with other foods or meals; yoghurt with live, active cultures; hard cheeses such as Cheddar or Swiss; and lactose-free dairy products such as lactose-free milk or lactose-free cottage cheese. Also, consuming a small amount of cow’s milk each day, and gradually increasing the amount over several days or weeks may help build tolerance to lactose.”

However, it’s important to note that if you have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, speak to a registered dietitian about a dietary plan you can follow that will help manage your symptoms but ensure that you still meet your nutrient needs.  

Myth 4: My symptoms indicate I’m lactose intolerant; I don’t need any further tests.

The facts: If you suspect you are lactose intolerant, see your doctor who will test to check if your digestive symptoms are caused by lactose or an unrelated gastrointestinal problem. The breath hydrogen test is often used to diagnose lactose maldigestion. Other tests your doctor might run include a lactose tolerance test (blood glucose test), an elimination diet, genetic testing or small intestinal biopsy. 

By misdiagnosing your condition, you put yourself at risk of unnecessary dietary restrictions, nutritional deficiencies and the possibility of failing to diagnose a gastrointestinal disorder.

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