Don’t Self-Diagnose Your Lactose Intolerance

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Defined as the inability to digest lactose, the natural sugar found in milk, there is a growing epidemic of American’s self-diagnosing themselves as being lactose intolerant.

As infants, we begin producing high amounts of lactase, an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of lactose to help us receive the nutrition from our milk-based diets. As we begin consuming solid foods, our lactase production starts to slow down, yet remains high enough to continue digesting dairy. For some, however, this lactase production drops significantly, causing uncomfortable health issues.

With access to so much information in a matter of seconds, it has become easy for people to “diagnose” themselves after a few quick Google searches online. In a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, it was discovered that nearly 35% of American’s self-diagnose themselves with a medical condition. Furthermore, 81 percent of these “self-diagnosers” used the internet to come to their conclusion, according to CBS News.

The results concluded that only one-third of Americans actually seek help from a medical professional after self-diagnosing themselves. For those who did search for a professional opinion, less than half said that a doctor confirmed their diagnosis.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance usually begin 30 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking foods that contain lactose. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea, and sometimes, vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Gas

For people experiencing these symptoms, it’s easy to self-diagnose yourself as lactose intolerant. It’s critical, however, to seek advice from a medical professional to ensure that lactose intolerance truly is the problem and not something more serious.

February is Lactose Intolerance Awareness Month, a time dedicated to educating people about a condition that is often misunderstood. What many individuals don't realize is that a person can have lactose intolerance and still enjoy the taste and nutritional benefits of dairy foods. A primary goal for Lactose Intolerance Awareness Month is to deliver this message: Lactose intolerance doesn't have to mean dairy avoidance.

If you believe dairy is causing your upset stomach, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about a management approach that best suits your needs. You just might find that you won’t need to cut dairy completely out of your diet, or perhaps, that you’re not lactose intolerant at all!

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