Lactose intolerance and aging seem to go hand in hand. But what most people don’t know is that lactose intolerance will usually start around the age of 2. But it gradually progresses until adolescence or early adulthood before you start to notice the symptoms. While that is the case with most people, some people start noticing symptoms earlier than that. But in most cases, lactose intolerance symptoms appear in adult years. As you grow older, the likelihood of having lactose intolerance increases. In case you’re wondering, what is this condition all about? It is when your body cannot process lactose. That leads to another question. What is lactose? It is the sugar form you find milk, as well as milk products, contains.
If your body will digest lactose properly, you will need the enzyme lactose in sufficient amounts. Your guts (particularly small intestines) usually produce this enzyme. Lactase helps to break down lactose into glucose and galactose. Your body will then absorb these simpler sugar forms into the bloodstream and use them for energy. But then, lactase deficiency will not automatically lead to lactose intolerance. You may have lactase deficiency and not have digestive symptoms. It takes time for lactose intolerance to develop. That’s why symptoms only show up mostly with age. Some of the major symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, gas, and nausea. Other possible symptoms are abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Lactose Intolerance and Aging
You may love milk, and that’s fine. But how sure are you that milk will keep on loving you back as you grow older?
What happens when you drink milk? Do you experience bloating and feel gassy? Do you have nausea and cramps shortly after you eat a milk product or drinking milk? If you experience these, you may have lactose intolerance.
Except for some rare occasions, children are born with the innate ability to produce lactase. Remember that this is the enzyme that breaks lactose down in our bodies. But with age, the levels of lactase in your body may begin to decline.
What does this reduction in lactase mean? It means that nothing digests lactose before it reaches your colon. When undigested lactose reaches your colon, bacteria break it down. This, in turn, creates excess fluid and gas.
Lactase deficiency is very common in adulthood. 2 out of every 3 adults in this world can’t make enough lactase to break lactose down after their infant years. But genetics have so much role to play in the development of lactose intolerance or otherwise.
There is a gene in your body responsible for signaling your body to make lactase. Experts call this gene the “LCT gene”. As you grow older, this gene may become gradually inactive. As such, lactose intolerance may begin to gradually develop at the age of 2. But the manifestations may not start until adolescent years or adulthood.
Experts say that certain ethnic groups or races are more likely to become lactose intolerant than others. People from East Asia, Arab countries, and West Africa, as well as Jewish, Italian, and Greek people, are more susceptible to being lactose intolerant with age.
Other Things You Must Know
But then, aside from advancing age, some other conditions may cause lactose intolerance. So don’t be too quick to blame it on age. Some of these conditions include injury to the small intestine, digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease, and so on.
Aside from other things that may make you lactose intolerant, there are still a few other things you should know. Some other digestive Problems may seem like lactose intolerance. So you should also not be too quick to blame milk for your symptoms.
Many adults may think they are suffering from lactose intolerance. But they have another gastrointestinal issue. Examples of such issues include celiac disease, IBD, or IBS. But these conditions have slightly different symptoms from lactose intolerance.
These conditions share symptoms like gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea with lactose intolerance. But IBD, for instance, will also cause bloody stool. But if you have lactose intolerance, there will be no blood in your stool.
Normal aging can also make your body increasingly sensitive to various digestive disturbances. As such, you may feel bloated after eating.
Certain foods may also irritate your intestine walls in old age. These include spicy foods or caffeine. The effects may closely mimic the symptoms of lactose intolerance. As such, if you have symptoms, be sure to get a proper diagnosis and not just assume that you are lactose intolerant.
There is a simple method of knowing if you are lactose intolerant. Remove all milk products and milk from your meals. Then watch out for symptoms in the weeks that follow. If there are still symptoms, then it becomes clear that milk is not the reason.
A doctor may also carry out a breath test on you to confirm your diagnosis. This is more definitive and certain. How is this done? After drinking a lactose-containing beverage, your doctor will ask you to breathe into a container and measure the hydrogen levels in your breath.
If you are not intolerant to lactose, the hydrogen levels in your breath will be quite low. If it is high, that confirms the diagnosis of lactose intolerance.
How Can You Solve Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance has no cure. But you can make some dietary changes to help mitigate the symptoms. But make sure to follow all of your doctor’s instructions and orders. He or she will likely give you some dietary recommendations to follow.
Lactose intolerance comes with peculiar challenges for old people, though. This condition may make you cut milk from your table. But then, that may cause nutritional deficiencies. Some of the main nutrients in milk and dairy foods are calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. These are very important in old age for strong bones.
As such, lactose intolerance and aging should not make you cut milk off your diet. What you should do, instead, is to reduce your milk intake to 3 cups daily. Your body should be able to handle this amount.