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Lactase Irritable Bowel Syndrome
January 2002

Q. I had been suffering the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, but I suspected that, because these symptoms were irregular, that something in my diet may be causing them. By noting what foods affected me mostly, I discovered that milk products were the cause. When I excluded these from my diet, the symptoms disappeared. What can I take to alleviate this problem? Are there any medicines which will counteract against these symptoms, so that I may return to a normal diet?

A. Milk intolerance rersults when there a lack or insufficiency of lactase, the enzyme needed to absorb milk (containing a sugar known as lactose) from the intestine. It is a common condition affecting a high percentage of Asian Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans. Common symptoms include bloating, indigestion or heartburn, cramping, and diarrhea. In some people with milk intolerance there is a genetic cause and other family members are affected as well. People with the condition often find they can tolerate a certain amount of milk with minimal symptoms, or that some forms such as cheese or ice cream may be more agreeable. There are many "lactose free" dairy products available in supermarkets now, so that the calcium and other nutrients can still be included in a normal diet. In addition, lactase enzyme can be purchased without prescription, then added to milk to reduce the lactose content, and lactase in pill form can be chewed prior to milk ingestion making in digestible.



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