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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Is it dairy intolerance or lactose intolerance (and what's the difference?)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Oh, you must be lactose intolerant" is a phrase I've heard a few times over the last couple of weeks. After the inevitable 'why?' question we talk some more, and it becomes obvious that the person I'm talking to doesn't know the difference between lactose and dairy intolerance – a sure sign that I should include an article about it on my blog post.

2. Lactose intolerance first: All milk contains a form of natural sugar, lactose. To digest this sugar, our intestines produce an enzyme, lactase. But not everyone can produce this enzyme naturally. If you're missing lactase, the milk sugar lactose tends to draw fluid back into your intestines, and the bacteria that live in your colon ferment the sugar. The result? Diarrhea, bloating, flatulence and abdominal cramps. 

Some lactose intolerant people can get away with drinking a small amount of milk and not get any symptoms. Others find that they can eat certain types of dairy, but not others. There's no "one size fits all" with food intolerances.

If you suspect you could be lactose intolerant, a simple test you can do at home is to simply remove all dairy food from your diet for a week, and see what happens with your bowel motions. Or visit your doctor for a breath test or lactose intolerance test.

2. If you're dairy intolerant, your immune system doesn't like the milk protein and sets up a reaction. What kind of reaction varies with individuals. Some common dairy intolerance symptoms are eczema, chronic sinus problems, hay fever-like sneezing that doesn't vary with the seasons. And mood disorders like depression.

If you suspect you may be dairy intolerant, try rigorously removing all dairy foods from your diet for six weeks. Some people tell me that they've already tried this, but on talking further we find that they had 'just a little icecream' or 'cheese doesn't count, does it?' (yes it does). Professional assistance is the best way to find out whether you're really dairy intolerant. We can sit down, talk about your diet and your symptoms, and explore the best way to discover whether its dairy intolerance or something else.

P.S. If you'd like me to explain why you don't need to eat dairy to keep your bones strong, leave a comment below and I'd be happy to write an article about it!


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