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Lactose intolerance

More fashion than ailment?

After consuming dairy products, an increasing number of people complain of stomach pains or nausea. The first suspicion is often lactose intolerance. But is this always really necessary?

The reason of lactose intolerance lies in the nature of human beings. Human beings are the only mammals to drink milk from another species, and start consuming cow’s milk instead of breast milk in infancy.

A genetically determined process is then a factor, a type of defence reaction by the body: lactase is an enzyme which is required to break down lactose, which is present in milk. It breaks it down into its constituent parts, glucose and galactose, which can then be absorbed. However, lactase production continually declines in all mammals, mostly from their third year, as the young animals are then sufficiently developed to consume solid food.

Lactose intolerance is not an allergy to cow’s milk

Therefore, if there is lactose intolerance, the lactose moves from the small intestine to the large intestine undigested, and the intestinal bacteria try to break it down there. This causes typical stomach problems such as stomach ache, flatulence or diarrhoea.

“Lactose intolerance is often confused with an allergy to cow’s milk, but it does not involve the immune system”, explains Sarah Coe. She is a nutritionist at the British Nutrition Foundation in London. Human beings find it increasingly difficult to digest dairy products as the body ages. Human beings become intolerant to lactose.

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70 percent of the whole population is lactose-intolerant

If you look at the number of people in South America, Africa and Asia who are lactose-intolerant, this assumption is accurate. In these countries traditionally hardly any milk is drunk. People there do, however, eat cultured dairy products which hardly contain any lactose.

According to Sarah Coe, the number of intolerant persons in some cultures is up to 100 percent. These groups of people are the most affected throughout the world. Which means that on earth around 70 percent of the whole population is lactose-intolerant.

Figures are much lower in Europe

“Europeans have consumed milk for many thousands of years, which has led to an evolutionary advantage,” says Cole. Thanks to a genetic mutation, some peoples can still create sufficient lactase even as adults, and therefore break down lactose.

On average in Europe only around 15 percent of the population are lactose-intolerant after childhood. In Great Britain the number of people who avoid lactose in their diet is around 12 percent.

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Booting demand for lactose-free products

Despite this, experts expect sales of lactose-free products to rise by around 75 percent between 2012 and 2016. This would correspond to a value of 529 million Euros. The reason for this increase is the rise of self-diagnosis and improved technologies for simplified manufacture of these products.

According to the German Milk Industry Association, around 80 percent of German purchasers of lactose-free products do not have any intolerance. They buy the products because they appear healthier to them than others, and they are therefore following the general trend for healthy and organic foods.

Waiver of products containing milk sugar

Did you know that many tablets are coated with a mixture containing lactose? Or that your ready-made pizza contains lactose? Living with the intolerance must still not be uneasy. The most important thing is to study the list of ingredients. If you encounter words such as whey powder or full-milk powder, you should leave the product alone.

Popular alternatives to milk of animal origin are products made of soy, rice or almonds. These do, of course, have a somewhat different taste, but are nowadays offered with increasing frequency in cafés, for instance, as lactose-free options.

It is possible to dispense with products containing lactose altogether, but then the body’s willingness to deal with at least small quantities of the substance automatically declines. If you need to avoid lactose can be best answered by a specialist.

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