Lactose Intolerance & Me.

Being a GP who has lots of non-medical friends, I’m acutely aware that “poo chat” is not everyone’s cup of tea. So be warned that if you are of a sensitive disposition, maybe skip this post?!

Although everyone’s habits are different, when there is a persistent (i.e. 6 weeks or more) change in your bowel habit which is not normal for you, it might be a sign that you need to talk to your GP.

A few years ago, during my 2nd year of GP training, I noticed that my toilet habits had changed. I’ve always grown up being a once a day kinda gal, and only rarely deviate from this (anyone else get “poo fear” when staying away from home?!). Being a self-confessed caffeine addict, I put the frequent, looser toilet stops down to a case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and reduced my caffeine intake. I’ll admit, I sort of brushed it off. Who says doctors make the worst patients…?! 😛

I’ve also been someone who is prone to runners diarrhoea, the main reason I chose to run on my own throughout university rather than join in with the medics run club. I figured it would be far easier and less embarrassing to dart into a bush if required!! As a result of this, I have always avoided having fizzy pop on run days, and try to allow at least 2-3 hours between eating and running. This helped to a degree, but I was still getting caught out far more often than was desirable.

A few years later, after a particularly severe bout of runner’s trots following Windsor half marathon where I suffered for 48 hours with cramps, diarrhoea and passing blood, I finally decided to do some more reading about the condition. Lots of forum posts mentioned all the usual culprits: spicy foods, too much fibre, caffeine and artificial sweeteners. But it caught my eye that dairy products might also be a trigger, due to a condition called “lactose intolerance”. Now, I’m usually a bit of an intolerance sceptic. However, I decided to put myself on a dairy free diet to see if there was any link in my case.

Within days, the frequency of my movements lessened, I had less bloating and wind, and things were much improved! Prior to starting, I had noticed that after having breakfast (tea and cereal with skimmed milk) I was feeling nauseous; after cutting out dairy milk all of this disappeared. I tried to reintroduce milk a few times, but each time I did, I got all my symptoms back. With a bit more experimentation I found I was OK with yoghurt and small amounts of cheese, however cream, ice-cream and my beloved custard were an absolute no-no.

Because of the severe episode with bleeding, I did see my GP and was referred to have a colonoscopy to make sure there was nothing more serious going on. Thankfully, it came back clear.

I still have my bad days with runners trots from time to time, mainly doing hard interval running sets, but these are much fewer and farther between and the rest of the time I’m back to normal. Finding a compatible protein shake has been the biggest challenge for me – I often try to consume “proper” food as a post-workout protein hit, but sometimes it’s just not convenient. I have found that SiS REGO protein recovery drinks which are soy-based and mixed with only water are well-tolerated, and more recently I have been trying For Goodness Shakes protein drinks. Although these are actually dairy milk based, so far I appear to be tolerant of these too, so perhaps their formulation (or the manufacturing process) reduces or removes the lactose. Either way, another tasty product which is on my “safe” list!