Q&A: Can You Become Lactose Intolerant As You Get Older?
Lactose intolerance is a condition caused by a lack of an enzyme called lactase, which, in turn, causes the body to be unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products.
Lactase is normally produced by cells lining the small intestine where it breaks down lactose into a form that can be absorbed by the blood. A lack of lactase can cause uncomfortable symptoms for some people. Those who exhibit symptoms are said to be lactose intolerant.
Thirty to 50 million Americans (adults and children) are lactose intolerant. The disorder affects some populations more than others:
Seventy-five percent of all African-American, Jewish, Mexican-American, and Native American adults are lactose intolerant.
As you get older, your lactose levels can start to decline, which means there’s nothing stopping the lactose you consume from going to your colon undigested, where bacteria break the sugars down and create excess gas and fluid in the process. It is common to develop a lactase deficiency in adulthood. In fact, about 65 percent of the global population has a reduced ability to digest lactose, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Your genetic makeup has a lot to do with whether you’ll experience lactose intolerance. The body creates lactase when it’s instructed to do so by the LCT gene, and over time that gene can become less active. The result is…