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Lactose Intolerance and Osteoporosis

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a common problem. It happens when your body does not have enough lactase, which is an enzyme produced in the small intestine. Lactase is necessary to digest lactose – the natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products. In the intestines, undigested lactose leads to the buildup of gas. Within 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating dairy products containing lactose, people with lactose intolerance start to develop stomach cramps and diarrhea. These two symptoms must be present for a person to be diagnosed with lactose intolerance. Between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. The disorder is more common in some ethnic groups than in others. For example, up to 75 percent of all adult African Americans and Native Americans and 90 percent of Asian Americans are considered to be lactose intolerant. In contrast, people of northern European descent are less likely to be lactose intolerant.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become less dense and more likely to fracture or break. Fractures from osteoporosis can result in pain and disability. Osteoporosis is a major health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans, 68 percent of whom are women.

Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:

  • being thin or having a small frame
  • having a family history of the disease
  • being postmenopausal or having an early menopause
  • not having menstrual periods
  • using certain medications, such as glucocorticoids, for a long time
  • not getting enough calcium
  • not getting enough physical activity
  • smoking and
  • drinking too much alcohol.

Osteoporosis is a silent disease that often can be prevented. If it is not detected, it can progress for many years without symptoms until a fracture occurs.

The Lactose Intolerance – Osteoporosis Link

One of the primary risk factors for developing osteoporosis is not getting enough calcium in your diet. Since dairy products are a major source of calcium, you might assume that people with lactose intolerance who avoid dairy products could be at increased risk for osteoporosis. However, research exploring the role of lactose intolerance in calcium intake and bone health has produced conflicting results. Some studies have found that people with lactose intolerance are at higher risk for osteoporosis, while others have not. Regardless, people with lactose intolerance should follow the same basic strategies to build and maintain healthy bones, and pay extra attention to getting enough calcium.

Bone Health Strategies

Calcium and vitamin D: A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is important for healthy bones. Besides low-fat dairy products, good sources of calcium include dark green, leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified foods and beverages. Many low-fat and low-sugar sources of calcium are available. Also, supplements can help people with lactose intolerance meet their daily requirements of calcium and other important nutrients.

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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