Why do so many of us have problems digesting milk? Whether it’s lactose intolerance, milk allergies, or other concerns, it seems that many people can’t digest milk properly.
That’s what a new USA Today report says. According to the report, roughly 60% of people can’t properly digest milk products and digesting milk is a uniquely human trait. That means that other species can’t digest it, so in the grand scheme of things it’s unique that some humans can digest it without problems.
Many people have problems digesting milk or milk products at some point in their life. Whether it’s some bloating after eating ice cream, gas from drinking a glass of chocolate milk, or some pains after having a slice of cheese pizza, many people can attest to experiencing some discomfort after consuming lactose. Lactose, the sugar found in milk, is very difficult to digest and is dependent on the amount of lactase produced in the stomach. When there is not enough lactase to absorb and digest lactose, symptoms can appear.
There are varying degrees of digestive issues people experience. Some will have occasional problems, while others experience symptoms every time they eat a milk product. These people, and there are between 30 and 50 million of them in America, are lactose intolerant.
People who are lactose intolerant cannot digest milk. It’s a chronic condition that lasts a lifetime once it’s acquired and it can arise at any time in your adult years. To get an idea if you’re lactose intolerant, see if you experience the following symptoms after consuming milk products:
- Pain and cramps in the lower belly
- Gurgling/rumbling sounds in the lower belly
- Upset stomach resulting in loose stool, diarrhea, or vomiting
The symptoms usually appear anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours after eating, and vary in severity depending on how much lactase there is in your stomach. The symptoms arise when the excess, undigested lactose ends up in the lower stomach and colon.
It should also be noted that lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy. Milk allergies come with far more severe symptoms and people who have them cannot consume milk products. People who are lactose intolerant, however, can consume milk products; they just have to be willing to deal with the discomfort that comes along with it.
To determine whether or not you’re lactose intolerant, go without any milk products for two weeks. When the two weeks is up, drink a glass of milk and see how your body reacts. If you experience discomfort, then you might be lactose intolerant and should be mindful.
If you’re lactose intolerant, my advice would be to avoid milk products when possible and limit them in your diet. You can try taking a digestive enzyme before consuming the milk product, because they’ve been known to help in some instances. Give it a try and see if it works for you.
Weise, E., “Sixty Percent of Adults Can’t Digest Milk,” USA Today web site, September 15, 2009; http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/science/2009-08-30-lactose-intolerance_N.htm#.Uub5az_idZI.email, last accessed January 28, 2014.
“What People With Lactose Intolerance Need to Know About Osteoporosis,” National Institute of Health web site, January 2012; http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/Conditions_Behaviors/lactose_intolerance.asp, last accessed January 28, 2014.