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Lactose Intolerance Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment + Diet Tips

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Specialty: Clinical Nutrition

Sarah Spann is a clinical nutritionist specializing in gut health and is based in Brisbane, Australia. She is dedicated to changing the paradigm of gut health and works with clients all over the world to help them get back the freedom, ener... more

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

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This is an intolerance to lactose, which is the sugar in dairy products (like milk). Some individuals dont have enough of the enzyme lactase, which is required to digest this sugar and become intolerant to milk and milk products. But being lactose intolerant does not mean that you are allergic to milk.

Lactose intolerance can manifest itself in the form of the following signs and symptoms.

Signs And Symptoms Of Lactose Intolerance

If not managed in time, lactose intolerance may cause symptoms like:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Frequent urination
  • Vomiting
  • Occasional constipation
  • Lower belly pain

Lactose intolerance can be present at birth but usually occurs later in life as lactase enzymes become more depleted. Some people say that only infants and young children should drink milk and they have the enzymes to do so since these enzymes do diminish with age after about age 5. The condition has two different types, and the causes vary for each.

Types And Causes Of Lactose Intolerance

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Lactose intolerance is classified into two types, depending on its causes. They are:

The most common type of lactose intolerance, is caused by a decrease in the production of lactase in your body as you age eventually leading to poor lactose absorption. Primary lactose intolerance can be partially caused by genetic factors because it is more prevalent in some populations than others. Surprisingly, Swedens population of lactose intolerant individuals is only about 4%. In the US, lactose intolerance varies by race with about 74% of African Americans, 87% of Indians, and 14% of Caucasians with some kind of inability to digest lactose.

This type of lactose intolerance is more rare and usually short-lived. It may be caused by illnesses from a certain stomach bug or more serious conditions like Celiac disease. It can also result from the inflammation of your gut wall as this temporarily reduces lactase production.

Many individuals are unaware of being lactose intolerant until they get themselves tested. Following are a few diagnostic tests that will help.

Lactose Intolerance Diagnostic Tests

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No.401 - Dark Circles

There are three major tests that help diagnose lactose intolerance. They include:

  • Lactose Tolerance Blood Test It also involves observing your bodys reaction to high lactose levels. Two hours post consuming a high-lactose diet, your blood is measured for glucose levels. The glucose levels must ideally rise. Unchanged glucose levels indicate that your body is unable to digest lactose.
  • Hydrogen Breath Test This test also requires you to consume a high lactose diet. Your doctor will check your breath at regular intervals for the amount of hydrogen released. For normal individuals, the amount of hydrogen released will be very low as compared to those who are lactose intolerant.
  • Stool Acidity Test This test diagnoses lactose intolerance in infants and children. Undigested lactose gets fermented and produces lactic acid, which can be easily detected along with other acids in the stool sample.

These tests will also help confirm if you are suffering from lactose intolerance alone or are allergic to dairy as well. There is some confusion between the two, which is what we have addressed in the next section.

Dairy Allergy Vs. Lactose Intolerance

These terms may sound similar, but there are differences.

Lactose Intolerance

  • Caused by the lack of the lactase enzyme responsible for digesting milk sugar (lactose).
  • Can develop at any stage of your life.
  • Can also be caused by faulty genes or an infected and damaged small intestine.
  • Occurs naturally with age and is more common in the older lot.
  • More common in certain populations than others. See demographics above.
  • Milk Allergy
  • Caused by an allergy to milk proteins mostly casein.
  • Usually develops in the early stages of ones life.
  • A result of a malfunctioning immune system that attacks milk proteins.
  • More common in infants and children but may surface at other ages as well.
  • The most common type of food allergy among children.
  • Now that you know the differences, lets look at the foods that may aggravate lactose intolerance.

Foods That Aggravate Lactose Intolerance

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Lactose intolerant individuals must avoid these foods:

  • Milk from cows, goats, or even sheep
  • Dairy products like cream, cheese, yogurt, etc. However, there are low lactose cheeses that you may be able to tolerate every 3 days. These include: Brick cheese, Cheddar, Colby,
  • Dry-curd cottage cheese, Gruyre, Havarti, Manchego, Provolone, and Swiss cheese.
  • Other foods made with dairy, including chocolates, cakes, cereals, bread, instant foods, and processed meat like ham

Most of these foods are rich in calcium, so avoiding them can mean lowering your calcium intake. Hence, you must supplement calcium in your diet by finding substitutes for dairy products. The following foods can ensure you get enough calcium in your diet, without causing complications.

Best Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

Non-dairy sources of calcium-rich foods include:

  • Spinach
  • Salmon and sardines (with bones)
  • Orange juice fortified with calcium
  • Broccoli
  • White tuna
  • Soy milk
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Almonds
  • Bone broth

Once you fix your diet, you can start following natural remedies that help treat your condition.

Home Remedies To Treat Lactose Intolerance

1. Vitamins

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No.202 - Prevent Elasticity Damage


Individuals with lactose intolerance are often deficient in vitamins B12 and D (1), (2). Hence, you must obtain these vitamins from sources other than dairy.

Foods rich in these vitamins include fatty fish, fortified orange juice, soy milk, egg yolks, and poultry. You can also take additional supplements, after consulting a doctor.

Why This Works

Apple cider vinegar turns alkaline once it enters your stomach and neutralizes the stomach acids, aiding digestion of dairy sugar. This helps prevent symptoms like gas, bloating, and nausea.

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Lemon essential oil aids digestion by neutralizing stomach acids, thereby relieving digestive problems caused by lactose intolerance (3).

Why This Works

48' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >Peppermint oil soothes your digestive functions. It aids digestion and relieves bloating and gas (4).

Why This Works

Avoiding dairy products can lead to a deficiency of calcium and vitamins D and B12. Consuming eggs daily can compensate for this (6684393' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >5), (6).

Why This Works

Lemon juice, though acidic, turns alkaline once metabolized. This action has a neutralizing effect on stomach acids, alleviating gas, bloating, and nausea (7).

What You Have To Do
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No.331 - Terminate Acne

Consume half a cup of fresh aloe vera juice daily.

Why This Works

Aloes anti-inflammatory properties help soothe your disturbed stomach. Aloe vera also restores your stomachs pH balance, thanks to its magnesium lactate composition (9).

Why This Work

The probiotics in kombucha (fermented black or green tea) restore healthy gut flora, which supports gut functioning. Probiotics also have a beneficial role to play in relieving symptoms of indigestion associated with metabolic disorders like lactose intolerance (9), (10).

Why This Works

Kefir is one of the richest sources of probiotics. As discussed, probiotics aid digestion of lactose and enhance gut health in a powerful way (11). Kefir can be made from dairy but the bacterial culture used to make kefir helps digest lactose.

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Consume 8 to 12 ounces of freshly prepared bone broth.

How Often You Should Do This

You must drink this once daily as a part of your diet.

Why This Works

Bone broth contains calcium, which is a nutrient lactose intolerant individuals could be deficient in. Bone broth also contains gelatin and collagen that helps your gut handle lactose better (12).

Why This Works

Coconut oil is dairy-free and makes for a perfect lactose-free diet. Regular intake of coconut oil soothes your stomach as well (13), (14).

How Often You Should Do This
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No.373 - Blackheads

Take the supplements as per the directions provided by your physician.

Why This Works

Lactase enzyme supplement facilitates the absorption of calcium in those with lactose intolerance (15).

Why This Works

Lactaid milk helps to make up for lactase deficiency often brought about by lactose intolerance and aids the absorption of calcium.

Lactose intolerance is quite prevalent in people all over the world, courtesy the absence/depletion of an enzyme that breaks down lactose. This condition cannot be treated; however, you can certainly relieve digestive problems that follow lactose intake. Home remedies for lactose intolerance, like apple cider vinegar, lemon essential oil, peppermint oil, lemon juice, aloe vera juice, etc., aid digestion and help relieve symptoms of indigestion, like gas and bloating. The easiest way to combat lactose intolerance is to take lactase supplements; however, you should not take them without consulting your doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

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What kind of milk is good for lactose intolerance?

If you are intolerant to lactose, you can replace dairy with lactose-free milk such as soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, or Lactaid milk, which is milk supplemented with lactase enzymes.

How is the body affected by lactose intolerance?

Symptoms of lactose intolerance surface when the cells in the small intestine do not produce enough enzymes to break down lactose. As a result, lactose is not absorbed by the body. Instead, it moves into the large intestine, where it is fermented by bacteria, leading to gas and bloating.

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How long does it take to get dairy out of your system?

It may take anywhere between 10 days to 3 weeks to get any dairy protein out of your system. Post this, your symptoms will cease on their own.

Can you eat pizza and chocolate if you are lactose intolerant?

Both pizza and milk chocolate contain lactose. Even though cheese is easy to digest, individuals with a severe intolerance to lactose must steer clear of these foods.

How much milk is safe for lactose intolerant people?

Lactose intolerant individuals can generally tolerate up to 1 cup of milk (12 grams of lactose). However, this is specific to the individual. One has to begin with a small amount and gradually work it up if they dont see any side effects. Also, you should only eat or drink dairy products every 3 days so you dont build up further intolerance.

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