A new poll sponsored by the US company McNeil Nutritionals has discovered that while many Americans know what lactose intolerance is, most of them are still unaware that avoiding dairy products is not the only way to treat the problem.
The survey of 1,008 adults showed that 81 per cent of Americans say they know what lactose intolerance is, but more than half (57 per cent) of them believe that someone with this condition must avoid dairy products.
One third (33 per cent) of those questioned said there they thought there was a difference between lactose intolerance and a difficulty in digesting dairy products, while another third (35 per cent) said they did not know. Just 31 per cent of those questioned knew that the two conditions are synonymous.
Lactose intolerance occurs when an individual does not produce enough of the lactase enzyme to digest all of the lactose in their diet, which results in undigested lactose sitting in the large intestine and causing bloating, cramps, gas or diarrhoea.
The condition is believed to affect 75 per cent of the world's population and three in 10 Americans alone. It is particularly prevalent among some cultures, affecting 50 per cent of Hispanics, 80 per cent of African Americans and over 90 per cent of Asian Americans.
But what most sufferers do not know - and what McNeil is keen to show - is that the ailment can be managed quite easily without giving up dairy products. The body cannot be made to produce more lactase enzyme, but products such as McNeil's Lactaid supplement can help break down the milk sugar in the body.
"Dairy in the diet is essential to fend off osteoporosis and possibly other diseases," said Laura Brainin-Rodriguez, a nutritionist at San Francisco Department of Public Health. "Although not everyone who has dairy digestive problems develops symptoms, those who do usually notice gastrointestinal discomfort between 30 minutes and two hours after consuming food or drinks containing lactose," she said. "But with minimal effort, the discomfort associated with this can be easily minimised or eliminated altogether without giving up the benefits of dairy."