Lactose intolerance or dairy allergy?
Let’s clarify the difference between intolerance and allergy, as even an important proportion of people affected by one or the other think they are quite the same.
In any case, and if you have questions, do not hesitate to ask your GP about your symptoms and about the do’s and don’t related to your particular situation.
An allergy is an overreaction reaction of the immune system to usually harmless substances, that we call allergens. Allergens can range from pollen to dust mites, peanuts, cat saliva, insect bites, newspaper ink or milk proteins. When exposed even briefly to this allergen, the immune system will overreact, thinking it is facing a dangerous attack. The body’s defense system will initiate a chain reaction, producing antibodies called immunoglobulin (IgE), specific to that allergen, in abnormal quantities. Those antibodies will bind with a particular type of cells, provoking the release of histamine, causing all kinds of allergic reactions usually located in the nose, mouth, throat, lungs or skin. An allergic person can experience hay fever, eyes itching, face swelling, redness of the skin, breath shortness, and even nausea or vomiting, or some combination of several of them.
Some allergic reactions will cause a slight discomfort and will disappear in a matter of minutes, others can be life-threatening, as is the case of the anaphylactic shock after an insect bite.
Food intolerance,, and more particularly in our case lactose intolerance, is a completely different process. The immune system is not involved at all in lactose intolerance. This condition is usually harmless but will cause incomfort with symptoms varying in intensity from one person to another.
People with a lactose intolerance are more or less able to fully digest lactose, the sugar contained in milk and dairy products. Their digestive system does not produce enough of the enzyme that „cuts“ lactose in two other simple sugars, glucose and galactose.
This enzyme is lactase and its production normally decreases through life as we diversify our food and consume less milk or dairy products. Some people will still continue to produce enough lactase to cover a normal adult dairy consumption, while some other will see their small intestine stopping completely to produce that enzyme, after an illness or slowly over time. The lactose will go through the small intestine undigested and will end up in the colon where its interaction with the bacteria will cause the typical signs of lactose intolerance: bloating, abdominal cramps, irritable bowel syndrom, diarrhea, nausea and in some cases, even vomiting. In extreme cases, studies showed that continuous lactose malabsorption could be medically correlated with depression.
Most of the people will be able to control their lactose intolerance by adding lactase, such as Lea Gogo, to their intake when consuming milk or dairy products. If you have a suspicion that you could be lactose-intolerant, and if consuming Lea Gogo improves your symptoms, ask your GP to get tested!