As my fellow colleagues have mentioned above, lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency or lack of the enzyme “lactase” which breaks down the sugar “lactose” found in milk and dairy products such as yoghurt, ice-cream, custard and cheese.
Another cause of lactose intolerance and is often called “secondary lactose intolerance” occurs when there is a lack of lactase due to a disease such as undiagnosed coeliac disease. Once the coeliac disease has been managed through a strict gluten-free diet, this secondary lactose intolerance generally disappears as the enzyme lactase is able to regenerate itself enabling the person to consume milk and dairy products again.
In general those with lactose intolerance can often handle a very small amount of lactose containing foods (e.g. a small glass of milk over the day) without any uncomfortable side effects such as bloating, gas and diarrhoea. There are also enzyme solutions of lactase that can be added to milk overnight to allow the enzyme to break down the lactose before consumption. There is now lactase tablets which can taken just prior to consuming dairy which can help to digest the sugar lactose.
If you suspect you have an intolerance to any type of food I would highly recommend a visit to an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) to make sure your not missing out on important nutrients such as calcium. To find an APD head to the Dietitians Association of Australia's website: www.daa.asn.au and click on “find and APD”
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