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Does your child complain of stomach pain after drinking milk? 3 out of 4 Indians are lactose intolerant

A common scenario witnessed in almost every household is a mother running behind her child with a glass of milk. Continuing since generations, this tug of war between a mother and child concerning milk has legendary tales in almost every family! A mother tries to add every possible fruit or flavouring in the milk to make it tasty and appealing, while a child does everything possible to resist. Yet the nutritious benefits received from milk for children, especially calcium for strong bones and healthy development makes this fight completely worth it.

Now imagine a scenario where this glass of nutritional goodness leads to stomach pains and cramps for a child. Or a scoop of ice-cream in the park leads to a release of embarrassing farts in public. This can be quite uncomfortable for a child and distressing for a mother. After all, milk and milk-products are a major staple in our diet. But did you know that 3 out of 4 people in India are unable to digest milk?  People are unable to digest the sugar or lactose present in milk because the body does not make enough lactase the enzyme that digests the lactose.

Severity of lactose intolerance in childrenn

Indians have been drinking milk for centuries but the awareness about lactose intolerance is negligible. With dairy consumption increasing in various forms of milk and milk-derived products, the impact is more severe now than ever before, due to changing lifestyles and increasing consumption.

According to a research study ‘Lactose Tolerance in the Indian Dairyland’, it was revealed that only 18% of Indians were able to actually digest milk! In addition, a study by the ‘The Sanjay Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences’ found that 66% of North Indians and 88% of South Indians were lactose intolerant.

Impact of lactose intolerance on your child’s development

This condition has become a growing concern for mothers everywhere, especially as milk and dairy products play an instrumental role in child development. Lactose intolerance can affect the child’s health, causing discomfort and lead to poor health due to nausea and diarrhea. This uneasiness could affect the mood of the child while the bloated feeling could make the child feel full and prevent the child from eating well. All this could lead to nutritional deficiencies in children. Several studies have pointed to a correlation between various gastrointestinal and other conditions and Lactose intolerance.

Based on a child’s intolerance levels, doctors may still recommend certain lighter dairy products such as cheese and curd, for nutritional requirements. Today, you can find several alternatives such as Lactose-free milk and lactase enzyme supplements.

Recognizing symptoms of lactose intolerance

Battling with your child to drink milk is every mother’s worst nightmare. But sometimes it can be tough to make out if your child is actually lactose intolerant or just revolting against milk like every kid. Here are common symptoms that can help you identify if your child suffers from this condition.

  • Abdominal bloating and pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Excess burping and gas
  • Onset of diarrhea soon after consuming milk
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

Diagnosing lactose intolerance

In case you notice any of the above symptoms, be sure to go in for lactose intolerance test. In most cases, people don’t realize that the child may be suffering, only causing his symptoms to worsen. In addition, it also leads to low nutrition levels, which can impact the development of the child.

Gene Testing: A simple and economical saliva based test (no blood sample needed) is available to screen for lactose intolerance. Gene testing is a simple and effective way for testing intolerances. As we are aware, genetics can play a major role in several health factors including lactose intolerance. By testing the gene MCM6 from saliva samples, it is now possible to test your child for lactose intolerance. A child who is lactose intolerance may still be able to have lighter milk products such as yogurt, butter and ghee as well as lactose-free milk. With gene testing you can identify risk factors ahead of time, even in the absence of symptoms, thus acting as an advance alert for your child’s health. Whereas common tests only assess the condition at the time, and are only helpful when the symptoms are already present.

Healthy alternatives for lactose intolerance

In case the DNA analysis finds your child to be lactose intolerant, adding certain foods to their diet can help support healthy growth. Add calcium rich foods like broccoli, spinach, turnip greens, salmon, almonds, and tofu. Also, add in fortified orange juice for vitamin D. In addition, children with lactose intolerance are generally advised to opt for soy or almond milk. Above all, the child can continue to benefit from the nutrition of milk by consuming lactose-free milk or whole milk taken with lactase enzyme supplements. However, it is always advisable to check with your Pediatrician before introducing something new.

Lactose intolerance and its symptoms can be quite worrisome for a mother. However, keep in mind that not all cases are the same, and even if your child is lactose intolerant he/she may still be able to consume certain milk based products and healthy alternatives for proper nutrition. A qualified nutritionist will guide you through all the options of a lactose intolerance diet available for your child. The main point to remember here is to get the genetic screening early to enable better nutrition and alleviate your child’s suffering. It is also important to remember that unlike in the past, with the problem identified, a suite of solutions are now readily available for you and your child.

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James Watson
Xcode is a pioneer in personal genomics, focussed on enabling personalized preventive healthcare. We are dedicated to empowering physicians, wellness professionals and customers with the most validated, accurate and actionable genomic information to positively impact and improve their client's health and quality of life.