Can You Develop Lactose Intolerance?

Yes you can, at any age.

Lactase for Lactose

Made up of galactose and glucose, lactose is a sugar commonly found in milk and milk-containing products. Our body depends on lactase, an enzyme produced by our small intestines, to break down and fully digest lactose into its two components.

When you have low levels of lactase, a condition called lactase deficiency, your body struggles to digest lactose, leaving it to ferment in your colon. Bacteria in your colon will then break down lactose, producing gas and fluid, and triggering unpleasant symptoms including abdominal cramps and bloating.

Late Reaction

Babies produce high levels of lactase which helps them digest their milk-based diet. When they are weaned from breast milk or formula milk and start eating more solid foods usually at the age of 2, their lactase production levels drop. Known as primary lactose intolerance, this inherited condition is the most common type of lactose intolerance.

But the symptoms may appear when the baby has grown into an adolescent or adult.

While your lactase levels decline as you age, your body’s difficulty in digesting lactose becomes more apparent, leading some to believe that they are suddenly lactose intolerant. The LCT gene which instructs your body to produce lactase becomes less active over the years. Half of the population is estimated to have a weakened capacity for lactose digestion after infancy.

Shared Symptoms

Reaching a diagnosis of lactose intolerance can be tricky, primarily because its symptoms are similar to that of other food intolerances and digestive conditions. Abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and gas are symptoms of lactose intolerance as well as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), while nausea and vomiting are shared by lactose intolerance and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Lactose Intolerance Detection Tests

Fortunately for individuals who suspect that they may be lactose intolerant, there are a couple of tests that healthcare professionals administer so you can know for sure if this is the condition you are suffering from, or something else.

The hydrogen breath testing involves your consumption of a lactose-rich drink, after which the administrator will measure the amount of hydrogen present in your breath. If the results show above-normal amounts of hydrogen, it is usually interpreted as a sign that your body cannot digest and absorb lactose.

Another test to find out if you are lactose intolerant is a blood exam. A blood sample is extracted after you ingest a lactose-rich drink to check your glucose levels. If the results show no increase of glucose levels, it shows your body cannot properly digest and absorb lactose.

Risk Factors

Some people face a higher risk for lactose intolerance owing to different factors. Experts found that your ethnic background, digestive health and quality of drinking water play a role in the development of lactose intolerance.

Asians, African Americans, American Indians and Hispanics are more susceptible to this condition. Patients who suffer from an imbalance of intestinal bacteria, coeliac disease and Crohn’s disease are more prone to suffer from secondary lactose intolerance, which is another type of lactose intolerance that can manifest at any age. Drinking improperly treated or untreated water also increases your risk for bowel injury that may lead to lactose intolerance.

Living the Lactose Intolerant Life

The idea of never drinking milk or eating dairy products ever again sounds harsh, but the good news is, you can still consume milk and dairy products even after you have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant.

A qualified dietitian can help you make the proper dietary adjustments to ensure your new diet doesn’t carry a risk of calcium and other nutrient deficiencies. Consuming small amounts of milk throughout the day, or lactose-free soy milk, for example, can ensure you still meet your body’s daily calcium requirements.

Need Our Help?

Book an appointment with an accredited dietitian or nutritionist by phone on (07) 3071-7405 between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday or send us an enquiry. Alternatively, you may learn more about how our dietitians can help you deal with your lactose intolerance symptoms here.