A deficiency of digestive enzymes can absolutely be linked to lactose intolerance. Lactase is an enzyme that’s produced in the small bowel that breaks down a sugar found in milk called lactose.
The prevalence of lactose intolerance is anywhere from 5% to 100% within different ethnic groups. Indigenous peoples such as American Indians, a
Aboriginals from Australia, the Māori from New Zealand, and Hawaiian people, have a very high rate of lactose intolerance. Cows were not a part of the culture of these groups of people, which meant their gut didn’t have any reason to build robust levels of lactase.
On the other hand, people whose ancestors originated from northwestern Europe have a very low incidence of dairy intolerance. These are peoples who historically have had cows and goats. It makes sense, then, that their bodies developed the ability to break down lactose.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. Often the symptoms onset about 30 to 60+ minutes after having lactose. It’s possible to buy lactase drops at health food stores. Gut bacteria can also influence the ability to break down lactose properly.
People with a healthy microbiome that includes a minimal amount of yeast have a much better ability to handle lactose than people with disturbed gut microbiomes. A healthy digestive system comes with a healthy ability to break down carbohydrates and sugars, including lactose.
If you’ve got lactose intolerance, the best approach is to avoid this sugar. You can buy lactose-free products, but I don’t recommend including modified foods in your diet.
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If you’re not sure if you’re lactose intolerant, you can eliminate milk products for 14 days and then add a small amount of lactose-containing foods back into your diet. If adding lactose back results in cramping and bloating, I’d suggest moving on to a comprehensive stool analysis. Find out the state of your gut and make the necessary improvements. Fixing your gut alone may make a big difference in your ability to tolerate lactose.
Lactose intolerance comes in varying degrees. Some people with milder lactose intolerance can eat certain types of cheese, kefir, yogurt, or buttermilk without much
problem. These foods may be more acceptable to the gut than pure, unadulterated cow’s milk. Raw, organic milk from grass-fed cows may also be easier to tolerate. You may want to try a few of these foods before deciding that lactose has to be entirely eliminated from your diet.
Try to avoid black and white thinking about any whole food. People have been consuming dairy products for thousands of years, so clearly it can be tolerated by a lot of people. Ask yourself, “How do milk products affect my gut? What benefits do I get from this food? What are the disadvantages of including milk products in my diet?” You don’t want to become the food police. In my experience, small amounts of raw milk from a cow fed good food can be a fantastic food for the body.