For those with lactose intolerance, you may be all too familiar with what we picked from our digestive enzymes, lactase. Lactase digestion helps you process the lactose in dairy, helping to prevent bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and cramping that happens to many who ingest milk products. Lactose intolerance is not an allergy, it is about a missing enzyme necessary for the proper digestion of dairy. For those who can digest dairy, lactase is produced by cells in the small intestine. For those who are intolerant, it is not—or it is not produced in sufficient quantity.
Lactase’s primary function is to break down lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Your body cannot naturally absorb lactose, so lactase enzymes help digest this milk sugar. This in done in order for your body to metabolize this form of sugar by breaking down the lactose into smaller, more digestible sugars called glucose and galactose.
When your body is unable to produce enough lactase to function properly, a condition known as lactose intolerance develops. Lactase deficiency is the most common and well-known form of carbohydrate intolerance.
Most mammals, including humans, have high intestinal lactase activity at birth (which makes sense when you consider all mammals nurse during their first few months). But, in many cases, this activity declines to low levels during childhood and drops even further (or completely disappears) in adulthood. The low lactase levels cause incomplete digestion of milk and other foods containing lactose. Undigested lactose in the bowel then is subject to fermentation which causes the bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and cramping associated with lactose intolerance.
It is estimated that approximately 70% of the world's population is deficient in intestinal lactase with more than one-third of the U.S. population presumed to be lactose intolerant and unable to digest dairy products, causing sometimes severe digestion problems.
According to MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of lactase deficiency begin thirty minutes to two hours after ingesting milk or a similar dairy product. Symptoms can include abdominal bloating, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, flatulence and diarrhea.1 Supplemental lactase enzymes have been found to decrease the symptoms of lactose intolerance associated with the consumption of dairy foods. One way of treating lactose intolerance is by adding lactase enzymes to regular milk, or take digestive enzymes that contain lactase in capsule or chewable tablet form.