Lactose intolerance is a condition caused by a lack of an enzyme called lactase. Inadequate amounts of lactase cause the body to be unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products.
Lactase is normally produced by cells lining the small intestine where it breaks lactose down into a form that can be absorbed by the blood. A lack of lactase can cause uncomfortable symptoms for some people. Those who do exhibit the symptoms are said to be lactose intolerant.
The disorder affects some populations more than others:
Lactose intolerance is least common among people with a northern European heritage.
Digestive diseases or injuries to the small intestine can reduce the amount of enzymes produced and is the usual cause of lactose intolerance in young children. However, most cases of lactose intolerance develop over a period of many years in adolescents and adults.
The following are the most common symptoms for lactose intolerance. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms begin to appear in Caucasian children after age five, and in African-American children by two years of age. Common symptoms, which begin about 30 minutes to two hours after consuming foods or beverages containing lactose, may include:
The severity of symptoms varies depending on the amount of lactose consumed and the amount each individual can tolerate.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.
The most common diagnostic tests (performed on an outpatient basis at the hospital, clinic, or doctor's office) used to measure the absorption of lactose in the digestive system include the following:
Specific treatment for lactose intolerance will be determined by your child's doctor based on:
Although, there is not a treatment to improve the body's ability to produce lactase, symptoms caused by lactose intolerance can often be controlled with a diet limited in lactose. In addition, lactase enzymes (available over the counter) may be suggested by your child's doctor.
In September of 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines for treating lactose intolerance. These guidelines support the use of dairy foods as an important source of calcium for bone growth and maintenance, as well as of other nutrients needed for growth in children and adolescents.
In the past, it had been recommended that dairy products should be eliminated from the diet to treat lactose intolerance. The new guidelines suggest that dairy foods should be tried to see which ones can be tolerated better than others. While the symptoms of lactose intolerance can be unpleasant, the condition does not damage the body. Thus, dairy foods that cause less disagreeable symptoms should be used in the diet to ensure adequate intake of calcium and other important nutrients.
Calcium is essential for the growth and repair of bones throughout life and has been suggested as a preventive measure for other diseases. Because milk and other dairy products are a major source of calcium, parents must be concerned with lactose intolerant children and teenagers getting enough calcium in a diet that includes little or no milk.
The recommended daily dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium, released in 2004 by the National Academy of Sciences, varies by age group.
Many nondairy foods are high in calcium, including:
Your child's doctor may prescribe a calcium supplement if your child is unable to get enough calcium from his or her diet.
Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium; therefore, your child's diet should provide an adequate supply of vitamin D. Sources of vitamin D include eggs and liver. Sunlight is also a good source of vitamin D.
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