HEALTH: All about lactose intolerance and other dairy debacles | Viva!

HEALTH: All about lactose intolerance and other dairy debacles

Lactose intolerance

In global terms, intolerance to lactose is extremely common as three quarters of the world’s population do not produce lactase after infancy. Race plays a big part in this.

Five million adults in the UK do not consume dairy. Many are lactose intolerant – an illness which directly stems from drinking milk after weaning contrary to what nature intended. The main sugar in all mammalian milk is called lactose and for it to be digested, it must be broken down to its component parts, glucose and galactose. This is done in the small intestine by the enzyme lactase. Glucose can then be used to make energy. Although babies and toddlers have lactase available to digest lactose, it is lost in most people after weaning, commonly after two years old. In the absence of lactase, lactose is fermented by bacteria and bubbles away in the large intestine, producing hydrogen and a wide range of potential poisons. Symptoms that result from it can include diarrhoea, a bloated and painful stomach and, on some occasions, nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms may include muscle and joint pain, headaches, dizziness, lethargy, difficulty with short-term memory, mouth ulcers, allergies (eczema, rhinitis, sinusitis and asthma), cardiac arrhythmia, sore throat, increased frequency of urination, acne and depression (Lomer et al, 2008). In global terms, lactose intolerance is extremely common as three quarters of the world’s population do not produce lactase after infancy. Race plays a big part in this. Lactose intolerance is unpleasant, sometimes in the extreme, but it is not a killer. But dairy is also linked to more sinister diseases.