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Lactose Intolerance & Age - Understanding The Relation!

Written and reviewed by
Dr. Atul Sharma 94% (173 ratings)
MD - Medicine, DM - Gastroenterology
Gastroenterologist, Gurgaon  •  12 years experience
Lactose Intolerance & Age - Understanding The Relation!

Doctors keep learning from research conducted on different types of diseases and their treatments. In the case of lactose tolerance, the conventional wisdom has been that the condition may actually start setting in by the time the baby turns 2 years, but it may not manifest itself till the child reaches adulthood. However, later research has revealed that not only does lactose intolerance occur as one ages, but there are other considerations besides the age of the person, which determine lactose intolerance and its intensity.

Production of LactaseThere is no difference of opinion that the basic cause of this condition is directly related to the production of an enzyme, lactase within the body. This enzyme is produced in the small intestine, and once its production tapers off or stops completely, lactose intolerance surfaces. Lactose intolerance refers to the manner in which the body reacts to the consumption of milk and some foods made with milk. Chemically, milk is described as a combination of one portion galactose and one portion glucose. When milk is consumed, these two are broken down with the help of the lactase enzyme.

Age Does Matter: When researchers started studying cases of lactose intolerance reported at different locations or parts of the world, the patterns that emerged showed a slightly different picture. It is true that the age of the person diagnosed with lactose intolerance does matter. As mentioned, it can start in kids as young as 2 years, but definitely, many symptoms may appear only later in the adolescence period. But some people may develop the condition much later. This means, they might not have faced lactose intolerance to begin with, but as they grow older, their body’s ability to produce lactase may dwindle and even disappear and that is when the condition could be noticed and if left untreated, it can become serious too.

Other Factors Relating to Lactose Intolerance: While remaining with the same conviction that age is in important factor in the onset of lactose intolerance, there are other significant indicators which have relation to the genetic composition of the person. For example, in a mixed race population or country such as the US, among whites, the condition may not occur before 5 years of age, while among African-Americans, it occurs by the age of 2 years. Among the Asian population also the occurrence of lactose intolerance is very common, whereas in some European races, the condition is rarely noticed.

How to Manage with the Condition?
It can be easily diagnosed by Lactose Hydrogen breath test (LHBT). If you have already been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, there is not much you can do to improve or induce lactase secretion. The only way is to avoid milk. But there are some products such as butter and some specific types of cheese that can be consumed. Many manufacturers mark the packaging of their products to indicate if they can be consumed by people who are lactose intolerant. In case you have a concern or query you can always consult an expert & get answers to your questions!

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