Drinking milk may seem like a simple, normal occurrence, but some people's gastrointestinal systems don't tolerate cow's milk well. When you have stomach problems after drinking regular milk, your doctor may recommend switching to lactose-free milk instead. But what's the difference between regular and lactose-free milk? Do they taste the same? Will you get the same amount of nutrition?
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Lactose intolerance is a condition in which your body doesn't produce enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks milk down into sugars. Without enough lactase, your body won't digest lactose well.
Lactose-intolerant people have a variety of symptoms, including diarrhoea, stomach pain, nausea, gas and bloating. In other words, it can be uncomfortable for them to consume products that contain lactose.
Short of discontinuing the consumption of milk, those that suffer from lactose intolerance can drink specially formulated lactose-free milk. The name is a bit of a misnomer, though. It isn't that the lactose has been somehow taken out of the milk. Rather, the lactase enzyme has been added to it, breaking down the lactose into digestible glucose and galactose. As a result, lactose-free milk may be a little sweeter than regular milk.
Eliminating milk from your diet is one way to diagnose this condition. But your doctor can also test the acidity of your bowel movements and the amount of hydrogen in your breath. The hydrogen-breath test works with the fact that undigested lactose results in higher than normal hydrogen levels. Testing stool is usually done for children, and it works because undigested lactose results in lactic acid in the stool.
Some people with lactose intolerance are able to consume small amounts of regular milk. But for others, switching to lactose-free milk and milk products is an easy "cure." There are also some milk products, such as cheese and yoghurt that have lower amounts of lactose than milk. You can also buy lactase enzyme pills to take before drinking milk.
Having some or all of the symptoms of lactose intolerance does not mean you suffer from this condition. There are other problems with similar symptoms, including Crohn's disease, stomach flu and irritable bowel syndrome. Eliminating lactose from your diet to see if that helps is one way to figure out what's going on, but it's better to seek medical advice from your doctor.
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