There are many aspects of diet that Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients must control. One common question among those with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis is whether they are lactose intolerant. Do they need to avoid dairy products like milk, ice cream, cheese, and other sources of lactose?

Lactose intolerance is common in people with Crohn’s and colitis. Crohn’s patients may be slightly more sensitive because digestive enzymes for lactose (lactase) are housed in the small intestine. The small intestine is the first area of the digestive tract affected by Crohn’s disease and therefore, it is not uncommon for lactase, the digestive enzyme for lactose, to become deficient, leading to lactose intolerance.

It is difficult to identify lactose intolerance, because many of the symptoms are similar to other symptoms of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Sensitivity to lactose may cause or worsen diarrhea, bloating, gas, and cramps.

Lactose intolerance is manifested by the body’s inability to metabolize simple sugars in lactose (glucose and galactose) in the small intestine. These sugars continue through the digestive tract to the large intestine. There, they are metabolized by bacteria which release hydrogen, causing gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

There are two ways to identify lactose intolerance if you have e Crohn’s or colitis. When Crohn’s or colitis is not flared spend a week avoiding dairy and other lactose containing foods. Make note if symptoms lessen or go away.

After a week, try a dairy product and see if you have a reaction to the dairy product.

If, because of your Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, you still cannot determine if you have lactose intolerance your doctor can perform a lactose breath test. This is a more objective and accurate way to determine if you are lactose intolerant. A breath test measures excessive amounts of hydrogen in the breath, released into the bloodstream from the colon.

Over the years, there has been some debate over a bacterium (Mp) in milk that may cause the onset of Crohn’s disease. Some believe the bacterium may only contribute to the onset of Crohn’s symptoms, which would mean the bacterium causes a reaction similar to that in lactose intolerance. At this point, research regarding the milk bacterium is sketchy at best, but it is another avenue through which to explore the causes of Crohn’s and whether milk exacerbates the symptoms of Crohn’s.

If you have Crohn’s or colitis and discover that you are lactose intolerant be sure to find alternate ways in Okeechobee to supplement your diet with vitamin D and calcium.