Intolerance and hypersensitivity to lactose

An allergy is an excessive reaction of the body to a normal substance, also called an allergen, which can occur in food, but also in pollen or house dust mites. A food allergy involves the allergen protein that is the cause of the development of allergic symptoms. People with lactose intolerance do not have a food allergy, but rather an inability of the body to digest this milk sugar.

An intolerance, not an allergy

Lactose intolerance is a food hypersensitivity, but a non-allergic one. Lactose is often a component of milk and milk products, but can also occur in other food products. Normally the body produces the enzyme lactase to digest the lactose it ingests. People with lactose intolerance have a lack of lactase, which can cause complaints. It therefore ends up undigested in the large intestine, causing it to ferment there and leading to complaints.

Lactose intolerance and cow’s milk allergy

Lactose intolerance cannot therefore be compared with, for example, a cow’s milk allergy, where the protein in cow’s milk causes the allergic symptoms. Although milk can cause complaints in the case of an allergy, the cause of this in the case of lactose intolerance is a lack of the enzyme lactase.

Who may suffer from lactose intolerance

Depending on the type of lactose intolerance, it may be present at birth or develop later. Both children and adults can experience this. There is also a hereditary form.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance

It is known that the production of lactase will decrease in a large proportion of people as they age, which may lead to lactose intolerance. The symptoms that may occur with lactose intolerance can vary from abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, bloating to cramps. If these symptoms occur, it is referred to as lactose intolerance, and therefore not as a lactose allergy. A lack of lactase in the body does not always necessarily result in symptoms that appear as lactose intolerance. Lactose is a component of milk, but can also occur in bread, stock cubes, cookies, cheese and can also occur in sausage. There is also lactose-free milk and yoghurt available for people who suffer from lactose intolerance.

Testing for lactose intolerance

Various tests have been developed to investigate whether or not there is a lactose intolerance. One of the tests that can be performed is the provocation test. This test involves following a lactose-free diet for a few days. After completing this diet, lactose must be consumed, for example by drinking a glass of milk. If complaints then occur, it can be said to be lactose intolerant. There is also a gene test that can be used to determine whether there is lactose intolerance based on some cheek mucus.

Therapy

The best treatment is to avoid consuming products containing lactose as much as possible. If you want to use milk products, you can take tablets that contain lactase, so that the milk does not cause any problems. These tablets can be purchased at the drugstore.