Milk, fruit and bread are actually healthy. But more and more people have their bodies rebelling against these foods. How you can recognize intolerances at an early stage – and live with them better.

Around 70 to 80 percent of the world’s population can only digest lactose in small quantities. Lactose intolerance is particularly common in regions where dairy products are rarely eaten due to local eating habits: in Africa, Asia and South America. Up to 90 percent of people there tolerate little lactose.

But even in this country, more and more people are reacting to lactose with complaints. In 2008 the Techniker Krankenkasse recorded a diagnosis of lactose intolerance in 29 243 members. In 2011 there were already 56 446 patients. Adjusted for the changes in the number of insured persons, there is still an increase of 69.2 percent, calculates Stephan Mayer from the Bavarian State Representation.

The numbers are increasing

The increased awareness of the topic of lactose intolerance due to the high media presence only partly explains the growing number of those affected – around two thirds of them are women. For the Munich-based nutritionist Imke Reese, the increase is also related to changed eating habits. “Let’s take coffee as an example: in the past, you added a shot of milk, today you pour three-quarters of it with milk,” she explains.

Lactose intolerance is diagnosed with a test: If this detects hydrogen in the breath after drinking a lactose solution, this is a sure indication that the body is producing too little lactase. In the small intestine, this enzyme is responsible for breaking down lactose into galactose and glucose. If insufficient lactase is produced in the intestine, the milk sugar remains undigested and reaches the large intestine. There it is broken down by bacteria, which release gases – including hydrogen. This causes stomach pain, gas and diarrhea.

There is no need to give up milk completely

Because many of those affected do not want to risk these symptoms, she refrains from eating all foods that contain lactose, such as milk, cream and soft cheese, but also some ready-made products. Most of those affected can tolerate small amounts of lactose. “The aim of the therapy is therefore not to eat largely lactose-free, but to be as low in lactose as your own tolerance allows,” says Imke Reese.

Gluten intolerance is a serious condition

In contrast to lactose, fructose and histamine intolerance, celiac disease is not only associated with malaise, but also a very serious illness – because eating the wrong food has much more drastic consequences than “just” digestive problems.

Deficiency symptoms and impaired growth

People affected by celiac disease do not tolerate gluten, a type of adhesive protein that is contained in most types of grain and therefore in pasta, bread or baked goods, for example. If these foods are eaten anyway, this destroys the villi in the intestine and the surface of the intestine shrinks. The result: food components such as iron or vitamin K are no longer absorbed, and patients develop deficiency symptoms. Babies and toddlers are often affected. You suffer from stunted growth and do not gain weight.

Celiac disease can weaken the immune system so severely that the disease can be fatal in extreme cases. Early diagnosis is therefore particularly important.