Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Got Milk?

For many years I thought I had a weird psychosomatic illness that caused intense cramps after eating. I saw doctors and had many tests done. I saw therapists and tried many stress-decreasing activities.

Nothing seemed to make me feel better, and the pain was so intense that it affected my coursework, and later, my teaching and editorial work. It wasn't until a coworker told me about her daughter's lactose intolerance that it occured to me that perhaps that was my problem. I stopped eating dairy products; the pain went away.

So I saw a doctor in Watertown, Massachusetts, a place with a high percentage of Greek people, and sure enough, I was lactose intolerant (LI), something that wasn't diagnosed at places without Greeks, and frankly, people of color. I did feel like perhaps someone could have told me sooner. (I also felt that perhaps if the Dairy Industry hadn't had such a huge lobbying force that dairy products would not be considered healthful by the Department of Agriculture, but that's a different story.)

Lactose intolerance (LI) affects 30 to 50 million folks in the United States, many of whom don't know that they have it. Basically, anyone who has ancestry that is not Northern European is vulnerable. And the degree to which you are LI varies. I can eat yogurt, for example, and cheddar cheese, but not other products with more lactose. If you're severely LI, you'll unfortunately find that lactose is in just about everything that is processed (bread, candy, salad dressings, etc) and even things that are labeled non-dairy. Like that non-dairy drink at Jamba Juice.

Learn more about lactose intolerance.