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No More Lactose Intolerance?

Q: I've been lactose intolerant since I was a kid, so I always take lactase supplements before indulging in anything dairy. The other day, I forgot to take one before having a piece of ice cream cake at my daughter's birthday party and I felt perfectly fine afterwards! Could I have outgrown it?

Dr. Donnica:
True lactose intolerance is the inherited inability or decreased ability to digest the milk sugar lactose. It's unlikely that one could truly "outgrow" that. In fact, most people produce a decreased amount of lactase (the enzyme that digests lactose) after age two and the condition is more likely to appear as people get older. It is possible that you may never have been lactose intolerant in the first place. Misdiagnoses often occur after a childhood gastrointestinal infection with diarrhea and other mimicking symptoms; it is also possible for various viral infections to produce a transient or temporary lactose intolerant condition.

There's no harm in experimenting by eating dairy foods and seeing how you react. Common symptoms include nausea, cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea, which begin about 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating or drinking foods containing lactose. The severity of symptoms varies depending on the amount of lactose you can tolerate. To find out for certain, lactose tolerance testing is available. This is a series of three tests: the lactose tolerance test (a series of blood tests over 2 hours); the hydrogen breath test; and the stool acidity test. Who knows, you may be eating ice cream worry-free in no time!

Created: 2/7/2006  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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