What Causes Lactose Intolerance in Adults?

February 19, 2024

Before heading out for a day adventure on the Mooresville Ale Trail and sampling all the scrumptious cheeses that sometimes make your stomach hurt read below to put your mind, and your stomach, at ease.

Lactose intolerance, characterized by digestive discomfort after consuming dairy products, is a common condition affecting millions of adults worldwide. While lactose intolerance can develop at any stage of life, adults often find themselves grappling with its symptoms as they age. Understanding the underlying causes of lactose intolerance in adults is crucial for effective management and improved quality of life.

Physiological Changes with Age

One of the primary factors contributing to lactose intolerance in adults is the natural decline in lactase production with age. Lactase is the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products, in the small intestine. Infants produce abundant lactase to digest breast milk or formula, but as they transition to solid foods, lactase production diminishes. By the age of five, there is a notable decrease in lactase levels, and this decline continues throughout adulthood. Over time, this can lead to difficulties in digesting lactose.

Signs of Lactose Intolerance

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea, and sometimes, vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Bloating
  • Gas

Genetic Factors and Ethnicity

Genetics also play a significant role in predisposing adults to lactose intolerance. If both parents pass on a specific recessive gene variant to their child, the child’s likelihood of developing lactose intolerance increases. Furthermore, ethnicity can influence lactose tolerance, with individuals of African, Asian, American Indian, and Hispanic descent being more prone to lactose intolerance compared to those with a Northern European heritage.

Secondary Causes and Medical Conditions

Beyond natural aging and genetic predisposition, certain medical conditions or interventions can trigger lactose intolerance in adults. Secondary lactose intolerance may arise due to chronic diseases such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or cystic fibrosis, which can impair lactase production. Additionally, surgeries involving the small intestine, radiation therapy, bacterial overgrowth, or infections of the intestine can lead to temporary or permanent lactose intolerance.

Managing Lactose Intolerance in Adults

While lactose intolerance poses challenges, especially in maintaining a balanced diet, several strategies can help adults manage their symptoms effectively:

  1. Gradually reduce dairy consumption to gauge individual tolerance levels.
  2. Consume dairy products alongside other foods to minimize digestive discomfort.
  3. Select dairy products with naturally lower lactose content, such as hard cheeses and yogurt.
  4. Explore lactose-free or lactose-reduced dairy options available in most stores.
  5. Consider lactase enzyme supplements in pill or drop form before consuming dairy to aid digestion.

If you frequently experience symptoms of lactose intolerance, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and personalized management strategies. A doctor can confirm the diagnosis through tests and guide dietary modifications and potential supplements to ensure adequate nutrient intake and help you enjoy improved digestive health and overall well-being.

AFC Urgent Care Mooresville is here to help you feel better and get on with your life. Call us today for an appointment.

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