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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is lactose intolerance?

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  • Ellen Moran

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Ellen Moran is an Accredited Practising Dietitian who promotes credible nutrition information, tailored to your personal health goals and needs. She has a special interest … View Profile

    Lactose is the carbohydrate (or sugar) in cow’s milk, that is usually broken down in the small intestine by an enzyme called lactase. Lactose intolerance occurs when there is inadequate lactase enzyme to digest this lactose. The undigested lactose then passes to the large intestine, where it is fermented by natural bacteria. This fermentation process can cause abdominal discomfort, bloating, and/or diarrhoea, which are common symptoms experienced by those with lactose intolerance.

  • Joy Anderson

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Joy is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist, as well as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has a special interest in … View Profile

    Further to what Ellen wrote, note that lactose intolerance in infants and young children is different to that seen in adults. It is the usual human condition to no longer produce the enzyme lactase after about 5 years of age. People of Northern European descent (and some African peoples) are unusual in that they don't have this reduction of the enzyme and are able to digest lactose as adults.  In infants, lactose intolerance is secondary to some degree of damage to the intestinal lining, usually caused by gastroenteritis, food allergy or food intolerance. In this case the lactose intolerance is a symptom of something else. If you fix the underlying problem, the lactose intolerance fixes itself. No infant who is breastfed should stop breastfeeding because of lactose intolerance.

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