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What is lactose intolerance?

Have you experienced bloating, diarrhoea or gas after consuming milk or milk products (such as ice cream, cheesecake and pastry)? If you have, you might be experiencing lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance commonly causes bloating (kembung perut)

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose is sugar found in milk and milk products. The enzyme lactase is produced in the small intestine, the organ where a lot of food is digested and nutrients are absorbed.

Lactase breaks down lactose into two simpler forms of sugar: glucose and galactose. The body then absorbs these simpler sugars into the bloodstream.

Lack of lactase (lactase deficiency) and inability of the body to absorb lactose (lactose malabsorption) may cause lactose intolerance.

  • In people who have lactase deficiency, the small intestine produces low levels of lactase and cannot digest much lactose.
  • Lactase deficiency may cause lactose malabsorption. This may cause undigested lactose to pass through the colon. The colon, part of the large intestine, absorbs water from stool and changes it from liquid to a solid form. In the colon, bacteria breaks down undigested lactose and creates fluid and gas.
The diagram shows how lactase is needed to breakdown lactose

However, not all people with lactase deficiency and lactose malabsorption will have digestive symptoms as reported by The National Institute of Diabetes  and Digestive and Kidney diseases .

Lactose intolerance in Malaysia

It is not uncommon for Malaysians to have lactose intolerance. According to research by GetDoc, up to 90% of Malaysians are considered lactose intolerant.

Although the effects of lactose intolerance are common, most people don’t know they have it. Some signs of lactose intolerance are, abdominal bloating, abdominal cramping excessive gas, nausea and diarrhoea.

The cure?

If you have lactose intolerance, there is no cure for it, says The Star. The most effective way of relief for those with lactose intolerance is to lower the amount of dairy products they eat.

To prevent our teeth from falling off and bones from deteriorating due to the absence of calcium in our diets, those who cannot take in dairy still need to take in calcium in other forms as reported by Free Malaysia Today.

Other than milk for their calcium intake,  the other alternatives that are also high in calcium are:

  • canned salmon or sardines with bones
  • broccoli and other leafy green vegetables
  • oranges
  • almonds, Brazil nuts, and dried beans
  • soy milk and tofu
  • yogurt with live and active bacterial cultures
  • curry leaves
    Some non-dairy food alternatives that are high in calcium

However, for those who are both extreme dairy lovers but unfortunately are also lactose intolerant, there is no need for them to get rid of dairy completely from their diet.

They can consume dairy products in moderation, enjoy certain cheeses, and choose what they eat carefully so as to reduce lactose intolerance symptoms.

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