Monday, March 24, 2008

Lactose Intolerance

Well, it is chocolate season right now!

A decent proportion of the adult population is lactose intolerant to some degree. When you look at the worldwide adult population, the number of lactose intolerant people is approximately 70%. That's 70% of the world's adult population who do not manufacture enough (or any) of the enzyme lactase to break down the sugar lactose into glucose and galactose in the small intestine, so then the lactose gets passed into the large intestine where bacteria ferments it, creating gases (such as hydrogen and methane) and acids which cause the wind, diarrhoea, bloating and cramps that lactose intolerance is known for. A bonus for gluten intolerant people that develop celiac disease is that this often leads to lactose intolerance.

Technically, lactose intolerance is the condition when you produce no lactase at all and lactose maldigestion is the condition when you don't produce enough lactase to break down all the lactose that enters your small intestine due to your diet.

Sure, there's a lower percentage of people from English decent who are lactose intolerant - somewhere between 5 - 25% of their respective populations, but that's still a fair number. And the number who suffer lactose maldigestion is even higher. I found out earlier today that people with Asperger Syndrome are also lactose intolerant.

And the dairy industry keeps telling us that their products are good for us - well, I'm very sorry, they most definitely are not good for me, and I'm in quite good company. The dairy industry, because of the high percentage of people who are adversely affected by their products, has worked on a way to produce lactose-free dairy products, but you pay double to quadruple to get a product that won't make a large percentage of the planet feel ill. Lactose intolerance was first investigated by Hippocrates, so the dairy industry should have known about it long ago - Hippocrates, after all, is a little older than the modern dairy industry!

Of course, soy, rice and other plant-based milks don't contain any lactose in the first place and can be used as a good quality, healthy alternative to dairy. And in addition to (especially) soy milk, low fat yoghurt (made without added milk solids), orange juice (proper, fortified, not the sugared down crap), leafy green vegetables (especially collard, broccoli and Chinese cabbage), green peas, baked beans, tofu and - my favorite - sardines are all good sources of absorbable calcium. And these have little or no lactose to make you feel ill.

Children receive human milk (normally) as babies and infants which is rather high in lactose (about 50% higher than in cow's milk), but as they grow older, their bodies change, their dietary needs change, and a number of them develop lactose intolerance as their production of lactase naturally reduces. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feed your kids dairy products, just that if your child is one who starts to become lactose intolerant, then look at the myriad of other absorbable sources out there.

Milk is not only a good source of calcium, but also protein and Vitamin D. So if you do suffer lactose intolerance or lactose maldigestion, it is worth looking at other sources of this protein and Vitamin D. One thing to note is that Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, so eating non-dairy sources of calcium and not replacing the Vitamin D from milk will not result in good calcium absorption.

Good natural sources of Vitamin D include fish liver oils (Cod Liver Oil), fatty fish such as the aforementioned sardines, as well as salmon, eel and tuna, mushrooms (if harvested properly) and to a lesser degree, eggs. Fortified fruit juices and breakfast cereals can also be used to obtain Vitamin D.

Casein is the major protein in milk and is what creates "milk allergy". For people who don't consume dairy products, it is rather a good idea to replace this source of protein with something else, such as mushrooms, tofu, chicken, fish, kangaroo, emu, beef or egg whites.

Obviously, you'd not take my ramblings as the only source of input on your dietary needs, but I thiught that during the season of chocolate excess, I may as well say something!


The Outspoken Wookie


CuylerB said...

Hi there
I'm a graduate student working with a Physician on developing a product that would enable people with Lactose Intolerance to enjoy dairy without suffering the ill consequences. If there was a packet (similar to splenda or sweet n low) whose ingredient neutralized the effects of LI, would you use it? Thanks for your feedback.


Hilton Travis said...

Hi CuylerB,

I definitely would. I'm not a fan of the gluggy, mucousy way I feel after having anything with lactose in it. I like the odd piece of cheesecake and/or cappuccino, but I feel it right from the first mouthful.

Were there something I could use to neutralize the lactose in the cappuccino, at least, then I'd be a happy chappy.

I also don't like black tea (I'd like to, but the tannin tastes like crap) so I have a splash of milk in tea. And I notice that, too. And due to spinal disc injuries, I'm drinking less coffee (strong diuretic) and more tea (contains antioxidants, less of a diuretic) these days.