Saturday, September 25

Lactose intolerance: 6 questions to clarify at once


In many families the theme of lactose intolerance and milk without it has already become a matter almost of state. Some members like regular milk as well as whole milk, but others are determined to buy lactose-free milk because they have read or heard that it is healthier, that it makes you lose weight by removing the sugar, or that it swells less belly.

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What is true about that? Are the benefits of lactose-free milk scientifically based or are they urban legends, myths, and misunderstandings? Here we answer it through the six most common questions about lactose intolerance.

1. Is lactose bad?

Lactose is neither good nor bad, it is simply the sugar of milk, which is in a proportion of 5%. It is a disaccharide made up of a molecule of glucose and another of galactose, a sugar that is transformed into glucose in the liver. Lactose cannot be absorbed through the intestines, but glucose and galactose can be absorbed separately.

To break down the lactose so that it can be absorbed, we have the enzyme lactase, which is very abundant in babies but that we lose with age, since we are not supposed to feed on milk.

Nevertheless, evolutionarily we have gotten used to to also feed on milk, unlike other mammals, and that is why most of us maintain certain levels of lactase production.

2. Why does lactose intolerance occur?

Some people, and some races – due to lack of habit of consuming milk – lose after childhood the ability to produce the enzyme lactase and, therefore, to break down lactose. Consequently, this sugar passes through the intestine without being broken or absorbed and reaches the intestinal flora, where is consumed by bacteria, which produce gases and water.

The consequence, which is not always manifested, can be intestinal disorders, colic, diarrhea and dehydration. It is a relative issue in adults, but should be monitored in children. On the other hand, the production of lactase can be deactivated if lactose is not taken or activated if it is taken, so that populations that do not usually consume milk, when doing so, suffer derangements at first but then end up getting used to it. In these cases we speak of temporary intolerance versus permanent.

3. Are the most lactose intolerant people in the world?

Only an approximate 3% of the minors and 5% of all people we are permanently lactose intolerant. Such intolerance, on the other hand, must be verified by a doctor using diagnostic tests that involve blood tests and biopsies.

That is to say: the vast majority of us are lactose tolerant. Another issue is that if we go years without tasting milk, then it becomes difficult for us to activate the production of the enzyme lactase and we become transient intolerant.

4. How do I know if I am lactose intolerant?

The most common symptoms of lactose intolerance are:

  • Heavy digestion after drinking milk.
  • Intestinal colic, that is, cramps.
  • Gas and flatulence with recurrent and uncontrollable winds.
  • Diarrhea induced by intestinal malabsorption and reversal of osmotic pressure across the intestinal walls.
  • Nausea in some cases of very pronounced intolerance.

If every time we ingest milk we suffer any of these symptoms, we could be permanently intolerant to lactose, that is, be within the 3-5% of Europeans handled by EFSA (European Food Safety Agency), but these signs are still very relative.

5. Does lactose cause belly bloat?

Symptoms of lactose intolerance may indeed be gas, but are expressed in the large intestine, not the stomach, in the form of flatulence, not a bloating of the stomach. This last phenomenon is produced by other types of food rejection phenomena related to poorly defined allergies.

6. Is lactose-free milk healthier?

An argument not only without any basis but also illegal if it appears on the labeling of this type of milk. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued an opinion in which it warns that it is forbidden to use the claim health claim (healthy claim) for the removal of lactose from a product. It has not yet been shown that, for a healthy individual, the absence of lactose has a positive effect on digestion.

On the other hand, what dairy companies do to eliminate lactose is not to remove it, but to break it down just as the digestive system of those of us who are tolerant would do. That is to say, they add lactase to break it down in glucose and galactose, sugars that can be absorbed by the intestines of intolerant people. For this they use specific and innocuous yeasts and bacteria.

Therefore, lactose-free milk still has exactly the same proportion of sugars as lactose-free milk, around 5 grams per 100 grams. It is thus clear that lactose-free milk is no remedy for consuming milk with less sugar.

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