by Kelsi Ross
During the first summer of Covid, my sister decided to go dairy-free in hopes it would help her eczema. In solidarity and hopes of a little weight loss, I did it with her. I told her I would do it with her until I went back to college where it’s harder to maintain a stricter diet. Wow, it was hard. I love cheese and that was what got me. Milk is in everything, and cheese is in everything I love. We started experimenting with vegan cheese and honestly, it was not bad at all; it just didn’t melt too well. While it was challenging, we felt SO much better, our meals were lighter and so were we. I never felt sluggish or overly tired, it was wonderful. I will say though that when I went back to eating real cheese I did go happily.
Now, the question I have to ask, why did I feel so much better when I wasn’t eating dairy? Am I lactose intolerant and I don’t even know it? Lactase is the enzyme made by the small intestine; this enzyme breaks down the lactose in dairy products so that the blood in our bodies can absorb it (1). When someone’s body does not produce lactase, they cannot break down the lactose from dairy products and have some uncomfortable symptoms, this is lactose intolerance (1). There are 30 to 50 million lactose intolerant American people (1). Of all African Americans and Native Americans, 80% of them are lactose intolerant (1). And of all Asian-Americans, more than 90% of them are lactose intolerant (1). Even with these statistics, there are millions of Americans that do not realize they are lactose intolerant (2). Those unknowingly living with this condition suffer from a myriad of uncomfortable symptoms (3). Symptoms like cramps, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and a generally upset stomach (3). This is something that we need to spread more awareness about so those who have been, do not have to live uncomfortably. While there is no magic cure to this condition, there are alternatives and there are ways to help it. There are dairy-free options, there is the simple answer of taking lactase pills when consuming dairy. People just need to know that they have a problem that can be addressed, they can feel better.
The American Gastroenterological Association is a voice and an advocate for the GI community (3). GI stands for gastrointestinal, the GI community consists of those suffering from GI-related health issues whether that be diseases, conditions, or disorders, and those helping to research and treat them (3). The AGA includes people from all around the world that involve themselves in the advancement of gastroenterology (3). They provide information on lactose intolerance from medical journals and articles to lists of symptoms and what exactly is happening in your body (3). The AGA wants to educate the public and is constantly working to advance research and development in the world of gastroenterology. This research is aimed towards finding cures and treatment options for those suffering from GI issues around the world (3). The AGA can connect you to people in their community, they can educate and want to help you.
Organizations like the AGA are providing resources on understanding lactose intolerance and how to identify if you may be affected by it. Look at this symptom checklist, evaluate yourself to identify if this may be your problem. If you think dairy is why you feel the way you do and talk to your doctor if you think it may be. Try to cut back on your dairy consumption, or maybe try cutting it out completely of your diet for a month, see how you feel. Try some dairy-free options, I mentioned dairy-free cheese before and that is one small way to start. I will say from one cheese-loving gal to the next, it’s not the same but it gets the job done. It may not be fun but if it makes you feel better it makes all of the difference. Go to the American Gastroenterological Association’s website https://gastro.org/practice-guidance/gi-patient-center/topic/lactose-intolerance/?hilite=lactose+intolerance and learn more about lactose intolerance and how dairy may be affecting you. You can learn about how you aren’t alone and what advancements are being made in this area.
Symptom Checklist (3):
(1)Boston’s Children’s Hospital. https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/l/lactose-intolerance
(2)Intermountain Healthcare. https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/live-well/2017/07/lactose-intolerance/
(3)American Gastroenterological Association.