Lactose Intolerance May Be Over-Hyped

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Americans who’ve assumed they’re lactose intolerant may actually be able to handle more milk products than they think, health officials say.

Most people who have trouble absorbing lactose can actually consume about a cup of milk without seeing the usual intolerance symptoms of stomach plain, bloating, gas, nausea and diarrhea, especially if it's consumed during a snack or meal, according to some limited trial data, the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse reports.

In fact, for many of those who believe their bodies can’t handle milk products, consuming them might actually be in their best interest, according to a panel of doctors and other health experts who gathered last month at the National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Lactose Intolerance and Health.

Avoiding milk products can cause health problems in both growing children and the elderly since it can cause calcium deficiency, which can lead to insufficient bone growth, osteoporosis and bone fractures, according to conference panelists.

“Small amounts of milk, yogurt, hard cheeses, and reduced-lactose foods may be effective approaches,” to getting an adequate amounts of calcium even for the lactose intolerant, the experts said. “Some people can eat a little of certain foods that contain milk, but none of others.” The NIH says, however.

Lactose intolerant people can also look for probiotic foods and supplements which often contain live, “good bacteria,” and make lactose more tolerable as well, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

“Lactose is the natural sugar in milk and some people lack sufficient amounts of an enzyme that is needed to comfortably digest lactose,” explains SeniorJournal.com.

But keep in mind, milk allergy is an entirely separate health condition from intolerance. “People sometimes confuse lactose intolerance with cow milk allergy,” notes the NIH. “Milk allergy is a reaction by the body’s immune system to one or more milk proteins and can be life threatening when just a small amount of milk or milk product is consumed. Milk allergy most commonly appears in the first year of life, while lactose intolerance occurs more often in adulthood,” the agency says.

For those with severe milk allergies, certain other foods can provide the calcium they need, according to the NIH.

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