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Are you lactose intolerant?

Your Health Your Wealth

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Observer staff reporter richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, January 28, 2014    

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CAN you imagine having to make frequent trips to the bathroom after consuming a dairy product? Or feeling nauseous, sometimes bloated and other times experiencing abdominal cramps a short period after eating or drinking foods that contain lactose?

This became 24-year-old Rebekah Watson's reality until she decided to make a few lifestyle changes.

She is lactose intolerant.

These signs and symptoms can kick in some 30 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking foods that contain lactose, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

According to the website, lactose intolerance, also called lactase deficiency, means a person is not able to fully digest the milk sugar or lactose in dairy products.

"I discovered it in high school from about first form," Watson said in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer. "In the mornings I'd eat a lot of cereal and every day I went to school I got sick.

"I had bad tummy aches, constant bathroom runs and a 'gassy' stomach, so I wondered if there was a correlation," Watson shared.

Watson said she consulted her doctor and then decided to eliminate dairy products from her diet.

Lactose intolerance, according to the Mayo Clinic website, is usually caused by low levels of the enzyme lactase in the small intestine, which results in the signs and symptoms. Usually, the lactase enzyme attaches to lactose molecules in the food you eat and breaks them into two simple sugars -- glucose and galactose -- which the Mayo Clinic website says is then absorbed into the bloodstream.

However, without enough of the enzyme, most of the lactose in your food moves unprocessed into the colon, where the normal intestinal bacteria interact with it -- demonstrating the symptoms of lactose intolerance, the website continued.

Lactose intolerance may be as a normal result of aging for some people, known as primary lactose intolerance; it may be as a result of an illness or injury, which is secondary lactose intolerance; while it may be a condition that you are born with, which known as congenital lactose intolerance.

Cutting dairy products from your diet can help to manage lactose intolerance.

"I just made lifestyle changes," Watson noted. "I switched to soy milk, I don't eat ice cream -- only sorbet, and basically if I can avoid milk I do."

Watson admits that she occasionally indulges.

"I do indulge sometimes in pizza, but when I do I know I'm staying home," she said laughingly. "Curiously enough though, there are some milk-based things I can eat without a problem -- milk chocolate doesn't affect me, neither does a single slice of cheese.

"So I think my intolerance is related to how much milk I ingest; my body seems to have a limit," Watson told the Observer.

Christopher Goddard shared a similar story, having had to limit the kinds of food he eats and drinks, after developing the condition when he was a teenager. Now 27 years old, Goddard admits that he is guilty of pushing his limit sometimes.

"I experimented with myself by seeing how much food I could consume before my allergic reaction took place, so after finding out my limit, I would cheat once in a while, but obviously be wary not to overdo it," he told the Observer in a recent interview.

However, laughingly, Goddard quickly pointed out that he wouldn't recommend that other people who are lactose intolerant follow his method.

The Jamaica Observer spoke to a dietician who said that people can manage their lactose intolerance by limiting the amount of milk or dairy products they consume as well as eating and drinking lactose-free milk and milk products.

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