Food intolerances and sensitivities rank among the most common health issues worldwide, with an estimated 20 per cent of people globally having a food intolerance of some kind.
Lactose intolerance ranks highly on this list of sensitivities, affecting around 40 million Americans, with a large proportion of the world’s population also thought to have difficulty digesting lactose.
But how much do people really know about lactose intolerance?
In this blog, we explore lactose intolerance, what it is, and other facts about this common digestive issue that you may not know.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is a condition where the body fails to produce enough of the lactase enzyme, which is required to break down lactose – the sugar found in milk and dairy products.
In people who are lactose intolerant, the body produces little to no lactase, meaning that this sugar remains intact and is fermented by bacteria in the colon.
This fermentation process causes unpleasant symptoms including bloating, flatulence, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea (sometimes followed by constipation).
Here are 10 more facts about lactose intolerance that you need to know…
1. Lactose intolerance can develop at any time, and at any age
Except for where a person is born without the ability to produce lactase (congenital lactose intolerance), other forms of lactose intolerance (primary and secondary) can develop at any time throughout a person’s life.
2. Lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy
Unlike an intolerance, which typically only affects the digestive system, resulting in symptoms that are not usually as serious, an allergy affects the body’s immune system, triggering an autoimmune response.
Allergies can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the person. In some serious cases, it can even lead to anaphylaxis.
3. Primary lactose intolerance is the most common form of lactose intolerance worldwide
Out of the four types of lactose intolerance (primary, secondary, congenital, and developmental), primary lactose intolerance is the most common type around the world.
It is hereditary, meaning that it can be passed down genetically to children if they receive two copies of the recessive ‘lactase non-persistence’ alleles from their parents.Order a Home Genetic Lactose Intolerance Test
4. Most mammals are born with the ability to digest lactose…
Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products, as well as in mammalian breast milk.
This means that most mammals, including human beings, are born with the ability to digest lactose at birth.
5. …but it is common for lactase production to reduce over time
It is estimated that around 65 per cent of people globally have a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy.
For people who are lactose intolerant, the body produces little to no lactase, meaning that the sugar (lactose) remains intact and is fermented by bacteria in the colon, leading to unpleasant symptoms.
6. Lactose can be found in non-food products like medicines and supplements
Although many people know that lactose is found in milk and dairy products, it is also used as an ingredient in non-food items.
These means that if you have lactose intolerance, it’s important to check labels on medicines and supplements as well as food and drinks, so that you can avoid lactose as needed.
7. Lactose intolerance is most common in parts of the world where dairy consumption is low
In parts of the world where dairy consumption is low, such as northern parts of China, and some populations in Africa, primary lactose intolerance – the most common form globally – can be as high as 100%.
8. It’s easy to mistake other digestive issues for lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance can be difficult to diagnose from symptoms alone. This is because the symptoms of lactose intolerance are similar to other digestive disorders including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).Lactose Intolerance vs IBS - What's the Difference?
For this reason, it’s important to discuss your symptoms with your physician so that you can seek the correct diagnosis and treatment.
You may also consider a Genetic Lactose Intolerance Test, which can tell you whether you have the gene variations linked to primary lactose intolerance. The results of this test can help you seek a diagnosis more quickly from your physician if you’re unsure about the cause of your symptoms.
9. There is no cure for lactose intolerance
Although there is no cure for lactose intolerance, symptoms can be managed by removing lactose from your diet entirely, taking medication to assist with lactose digestion, or consuming products that contain little or no lactose.Everything you need to know about Lactose Intolerance
Your physician can also provide you with advice and guidance on managing your symptoms.
10. Genetic testing can tell you whether you have primary lactose intolerance
Primary lactose intolerance, the most common form of lactose intolerance globally, runs in families.
This means that you are more likely to have lactose intolerance if you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) with the condition.
It also means that expert geneticists can analyze a person’s DNA to determine whether they are likely to have primary lactose intolerance.
For an AlphaBiolabs Genetic Lactose Intolerance Test, our in-house scientists analyze cheek swab DNA samples to look for changes (mutations or variations) at specific locations of the MCM6 gene.
This gene helps regulate the gene that produces the lactase enzyme, which is needed for our bodies to breakdown lactose.
If certain variations are present within the MCM6 this indicates that the person has primary lactose intolerance.
Where can I buy a lactose intolerance test?
It’s never been easier to order your Genetic Lactose Intolerance Test online, direct from our accredited laboratory.
Available for just $129, our test can tell you whether you have the MCM6 gene variations linked to primary lactose intolerance.
Simply collect your cheek swab samples at home, return them to our award-winning laboratory, and receive your secure, confidential results via email in 5-7 days.
Genetic Lactose Intolerance Test
Order your test online now for just $129.