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Can Lactose Intolerance Develop As You Age?

Reviewed by
Dr. Anand V Ghiya 91% (10 ratings)
MBBS, DNB ( General Surgery ), MNAMS - General Surgery
Gastroenterologist, Pune  •  21 years experience
Can Lactose Intolerance Develop As You Age?

If you are feeling gassy and bloated immediately after having milk, it is time to reconsider your milk digestion power. While every baby is born with the ability to produce lactase, with age the ability to produce lactose decreases and the level of intolerance towards milk and other dairy products increases. This condition, however, greatly varies from individual to individual.

People in their 50's often find themselves to be intolerant towards lactose. When this happens, the lactose that is consumed travels into the colon undigested. This is the place where bacteria breaks down the sugar present into the lactose resulting in a fluid and excess gas.

According to a report published by the National Institute of Health, it is found that more than 60 percent of the ageing population reduces their lactose digestion ability with time. The genetic setup of a person has a lot to do with it. The LCT gene is responsible for producing lactose in the body, an enzyme, which is responsible for digesting dairy-based product. With age, this gene becomes less active resulting in lactose intolerance leading to various side effects such as diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and nausea.

According to a study conducted by the NIH, it is found that people from an ethnic background such as Italian, Arab, West African Jewish and Greek are more prone to lactose intolerance than their peers. Lactose intolerance can also occur due to injury related to the small intestine. People are known to have fallen victims of lactose intolerance due to infection, radiation or diseases as well. According to a study conducted by the NIDDK (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), it is found that people become lactose intolerant if they consume poorly treated water.

Primary lactose intolerance is more common than secondary lactose intolerance. In Primary lactose intolerance, lactase gets generated at normal levels and then starts declining with age. While the reason for the onset of primary lactose is not known, it can develop at any age and gets worse with age. The sad part of lactose intolerance is the fact that it does not get cured. The only solution is to completely cut down dairy products or lessen it to a significant extent.

While there is no hard and fast rule about lactose intolerance, it is a good idea to visit a doctor whenever the symptoms crop up. Often the reason for lactose intolerance can be entirely different from what is predicted. Addressing the underlying cause can free a patient from suffering from gas, bloating and inflammation. A doctor mostly conducts a lactose tolerance test to find out the preliminary stage of the condition and then prescribes medication if necessary.

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