Could Tummy Troubles Mean Lactose Intolerance?

Recognizing Lactose Intolerance in Children

Does your child seem to have tummy troubles? Are you wondering if it could be because of dairy? There are many reasons why your child could have an upset stomach, but let’s take a look at lactose intolerance.

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

First off, what is lactose? Lactose is the main form of sugar or carbohydrate found in most dairy products. It can also be added to other foods, such as baked goods, cereals, snacks, and salad dressings.

To digest lactose, our body uses lactase, the natural enzyme made by our small intestine. However, when our body doesn’t make enough lactase, we become lactose intolerant. Though it is unusual for children to develop lactose intolerance, it can happen. But because it is rare, it is important to make sure that here isn’t another problem occurring, and your child should be evaluated by a medical professional.

The symptoms of lactose intolerance include nausea, cramps, and abdominal pain, bloating, painful gas, and diarrhea. Usually, these symptoms will occur 30 minutes to two hours after eating foods with lactose in them. Some people can tolerate small amounts of lactose while others experience severe symptoms when consuming extremely small amounts of lactose-containing foods.

Since there are many other conditions that have similar symptoms, it is important to diagnose this condition properly.

Lactose intolerance is diagnosed with a breath hydrogen test. After consuming a specified amount of lactose-containing food, the person being tested breathes into a balloon-like bag and it is analyzed for the amount of hydrogen it contains. When lactose is insufficiently digested, it gives off hydrogen gas.

The more hydrogen contained in the gas breathed out, the more severe the lactose intolerance.

It is also important to note that a milk protein allergy is different than lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance occurs because of the lack of an enzyme, lactase. Milk protein allergies occur due to immunological mechanisms. Often children with milk protein allergies will have other symptoms besides those in their gastrointestinal tract, including dermatologic and respiratory symptoms.

After Your Child Is Diagnosed With Lactose Intolerance 

Once your child has been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, it’s time to make sure that they are still getting the nutrients they need to grow. Dairy foods contain essential nutrients needed for normal growth:

  • Protein to build strong muscles
  • Calcium, phosphorus, potassium to grow strong bones and healthy teeth
  • Vitamins A, D, and B12, which are essential vitamins for healthy bodies

Since eliminating foods with lactose in them is key to managing lactose intolerance, it is important to find other ways to get these nutrients.

Finding ways to include some dairy foods is a great way to start.

It is a common misconception that when one has lactose intolerance, all dairy foods must be eliminated. With a few strategies, dairy foods can still be enjoyed. Some tips to include dairy food when lactose intolerant are:

  • Eating small amounts of dairy with other foods to slow digestion
  • Eating natural cheeses, which are low in lactose or are lactose-free (some examples are Cheddar, Colby, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, and Swiss)
  • Including yogurt, which has live and active cultures to help digest lactose
  • Using dietary supplements with the lactase enzyme to help digest lactose

Since all individuals are different, it may take some trial and error to find which low-lactose dairy foods will work for your child. But if you are still worried that your lactose intolerant child isn’t getting the nutrients they need, consult with your medical professional about providing a calcium supplement (be sure it also contains vitamin D).

Lactose intolerance in kids may be rare, but it is still an important topic. Most importantly, it is essential that all children get the bone-building nutrients that dairy foods provide.

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