Forms of Lactose Intolerance

01.06.2015 22:52



There are varying causes for lactose intolerance. Generally one differentiates between the following three forms:

1. Primary lactose intolerance
2. Secondary lactose intolerance
3. Congenital lactose intolerance

1.    Primary lactose intolerance

This is the most common form of lactose intolerance. It traces back to the fact that the ability of individuals to digest lactose normally decreases with age. Indeed, originally lactase was only produced in infants to enable them to digest mother’s milk. The circumstance that especially populations from the geographical area of Europe can still tolerate milk as adults is owing to a gene mutation. It was not actually envisioned by nature. Thus, it’s not really surprising that a majority of the global population cannot tolerate milk. Primary lactose intolerance has a genetic component and is not curable.

2.    Secondary (in other words “temporary” or “acquired”) lactose intolerance

This form of lactose intolerance is not inherited and can usually be traced back to an injury to the inner lining of the intestinal wall, which prevents to release of lactase. The damage can be, for example, a side effect of such intestinal diseases as Morbus Crohn, but it can also be the result of an infection, from intestinal surgery, celiac disease, alcoholism, chemotherapy or the use of antibiotics over a long period of time. Secondary lactose intolerance can potentially be healed if the damage to the lining of the intestinal wall, or the cause of it, is successfully treated.

3.    Congenital  lactose intolerance

Congenital lactose intolerance, or “congenital lactase deficiency”, is caused by a gene defect and is inherited. Here, lactase production by the body is inhibited. In this case, the infant cannot tolerate breast milk either and must be fed with lactose-free infant formula. It is vitally important that the infant is monitored by a pediatrician to prevent malnutrition or dehydration. Congenital lactose intolerance is rather rare. 

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