Saturday, July 5, 2014

Damn It! I think I Might Be Lactose Intolerant too....

A gf friend asked me the other day what does lactose intolerance feel like. She has been a waning gf consumer for over 10 years, but strictly gf for over the last 5 and is thinking that possibly she now might be lactose intolerant. At the time, I didn't verbalize it or think it, but I think it might be unlikely, because it seems like once you purge your body of a toxin, it is much easier to identify others that cause irritation, soon there after. I am thinking it might have been a situational discomfort more than an intolerance or allergy.

I identified my lactose intolerance about two years into being gluten free. I think it truly takes a year to completely feel the benefits of being gluten free if you are predisposed. After spending x number of years consuming gluten, it takes a reasonably long time to rejuvenate your gut flora and microvilli and completely purge your body. The first 3 months of an elimination diet there is a noticeable difference and you stop feeling like crap all the time, and then the first 6 months you notice significant inflammation decrease, but only at the year mark do you start to feel a semblance of what you should be.

As the years passed and the cleaner I ate, the easier I noticed my reactions to different foods to include: refined sugar, stone fruits, caffeine, dairy, and processed and conventional meats. 

I noticed my lactose intolerance because I had made homemade, local strawberry, strawberry gf shortcakes with homemade whipped cream. Within less than an hour of eating dessert, I was doubled over in digestive pain. My guts gurgled, ached and the gas was horrendous. It was painful and burned every one's nostrils. I was shocked and completely uncomfortable. Being the test guinea pig that I am, I tried it again over the next few days. I tested the strawberries on their own - no reaction. The next day I tested the gf shortcake by itself, again no reaction. On the third day I tested the remaining bits of the whipped cream and again within an hour the painful, nostril-burning-gas emerged. I was excited, disappointed and tried to run away from my own stench all at the same time, but at least I had found the culprit.

At first I thought it was just whipping cream, but then I noticed any and all conventional diary gave me problems. So it was out with the dairy too. Bummer! The pain and smell alone would make anyone throw up the white flag. Lactose intolerance is immediate and wretched, which is how I know my friend was not lactose intolerant too.

I switched my cream in my coffee to almond milk (which eventually gave way to giving up coffee entirely too) and started buying naturally lactose free aged cheddar. A helpful hint, the harder and more aged the cheese the lower levels of lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and milk products. The small intestine produces an enzyme called lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose into two simpler forms of sugar: glucose and galactose. People with lactose intolerance often do not have the ability to produce proper amounts of lactase to breakdown lactose, causing digestive issues.

There are ongoing debates about lactose intolerance and things we can do to facilitate or aide lactase production. Aside from body chemistry and genetics, the largest proposed culprit is the processing of conventional milk products. The theory is that because conventional milk is so pasteurized and stripped of nutrients and bacteria that naturally assist in digestion, an increasing number of people are lactose intolerant. There is another theory that those children that were given farm fresh milk are much more likely to be able to consume commercial milk later in life, as the healthy bacteria from the farm fresh milk helped prime the gut flora to fend of the devoid-of-helpful-bacteria conventional milk that most of us consume. Similarly, if you are able, of which few of us are, because the FDA has very strict regulations on farm fresh milk and pasteurization, to consume farm fresh, unpasteurized milk as an adult, apparently you can revert your lactose sensitive gut into a lactase producing machine that has no problem digesting milk products. I have yet to try this, but it sounds very intriguing.

Over the last year, I have played with what works and what doesn't for me. Everyone is different and is effected differently and the only way you are going to know your intolerances, unfortunately is by testing them. So endure the pain and the smelly gas or diarrhea, however you may be effected, but really it is the only way for you to know what you need to avoid.

Now I only consume one brand of aged extra sharp cheddar cheese, all others I have tried give me discomfort, but even then, I am very conscious of how much I consume in a meal and over the course of a few days. Be wary of vegan and lactose free brand cheeses, they often times contain gluten, preservatives and even plastic derivatives to get that "cheesey" texture and melting abilities. Read your labels! I eat organic Greek yogurt, which naturally has less lactose in it due to the aging and straining process*. And I drink kefir, which is 99% lactose free, again because of the processing procedures.

It is a huge bummer that those of us who already have to cut out gluten, also might not get the pleasure of eating delicious cheeses and ice creams and all the other yummy dairy products out there, almost 75% of gluten intolerant people are also lactose intolerant, but again the more you know, the more you research and the more you test your own allergies, you will find what works for you.