Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dr. Julie on Enzymes for Better Digestion

Here is another article in Dr. Julie Thurston's question and answer series posted on our main site, In this article, Dr. Julie discusses how you can improve your digestion and overall health by supplementing with enzymes.
Q: Almost every time I eat milk and cheese I feel bloated and gassy. I thought this was normal until someone said that I might have an intolerance. What does this mean and what can I do?

A: Based on your symptoms there are a few health concerns you should consider. You may be intolerant to the sugar in dairy products, which is called lactose intolerance. You may also have an allergy to the protein component of dairy products, which is called dairy allergy. These are very common complaints and I guide many patients through the process of figuring out which of these health concerns they have.

Intolerance to lactose results from an inability of the body to breakdown lactose, a two-part sugar, into its single components so that it can be absorbed. The undigested sugar causes gas and bloating because other bacteria in the digestive system break it down. The undigested sugar also draws water into the colon and can lead to loose or watery stool. The symptoms are usually dose dependent, meaning a slice of cheese may cause very little discomfort but a large glass of milk may be troublesome. Lactose that is added to products, like medication tablets, will also cause discomfort.

Treating lactose intolerance involves taking only lactose-free dairy products or ingesting lactose digestive enzymes with regular dairy products. There is no cure for lactose intolerance and symptoms usually worsen as you get older.

Dairy allergy is also very common, can co-exist with lactose intolerance, and can lead to similar symptoms. Dairy allergy can manifest as an immediate hypersensitivity reaction with the same symptoms you described, but may also include swelling, itching, hives, etc. It can also manifest as a delayed reaction. The symptoms come on a few to 48 hours after eating dairy or may be a continuous problem if you consume dairy regularly. It can also be an underlying cause of many other health concerns including sinus or respiratory infections, arthritis, auto-immune conditions, eczema, psoriasis, acne and irritable or inflammatory bowel conditions.

Definitive diagnosis of dairy allergy is done with food allergy tests. Skin prick tests, performed by an allergist, diagnosis immediate hypersensitivity reactions. Food allergy tests performed by a Naturopathic Doctor involve blood sampling and can test for immediate and/or delayed reactions.

Treating dairy allergy involves avoiding and minimizing dairy consumption. Addressing other areas of the body that are involved in allergic reactions helps the body to rebalance the immune system so that future reactions to dairy aren’t as severe or long lasting. These focus areas vary but can include the liver, intestines and adrenal gland.

I hope that this helps to get you started on figuring out why you are having trouble digesting dairy products. For more guidance consult your Naturopathic Doctor.

If you would like to read other articles by Dr. Julie Thurston, please go to this page:

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