Guide to Lactose Intolerance

Guide to Lactose Intolerance

If you love eating ice cream but don't love the way your abdomen feels afterwards, you may be lactose intolerant. Lactose is naturally occurring sugar found in dairy products. The small intestine produces an enzyme called lactase to digest lactose. Some people, however, don't have enough lactase to properly break down the lactose they consume and are lactose intolerant.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance

If you are lactose intolerant, you will feel the effects somewhere between 30 and 120 minutes after you eat dairy. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and include any of the following:

  • Abdominal cramps or pain
  • Bloating
  • Noises such as gurgling
  • Flatulence
  • Loose stool
  • Vomiting

Diagnosing lactose intolerance

If you suspect that you have lactose intolerance, your doctor might suggest eliminating dairy from your diet to see if symptoms stop. Once you've been dairy-free long enough to see a difference in symptoms, try reintroducing repeated servings of a lactose-containing item to see if you have any reaction. If you react every time, you could be lactose intolerant.

Your doctor can confirm lactose intolerance by testing your body's reaction to lactose. Tests that measure this reaction include the following:

  • A lactose tolerance test, in which you drink a high-lactose liquid, after which the doctor takes a blood sample to look for changes in blood sugar
  • A hydrogen breath test, which also involves the consumption of liquid that is high in lactose and subsequent breath analysis: if you exhale higher than normal hydrogen, it is from the fermentation of undigested lactose
  • A stool acidity test, in which a stool sample is tested for acids created by fermenting undigested lactose

Dietary tips

Lactose intolerance can affect each person differently, depending on how much lactase their body makes. Some people can enjoy a small amount of dairy while others must eliminate it from their diet. Some lactose intolerance sufferers can eat yogurt containing live cultures, and others may need to take a digestive aid that contains lactase.

If you are lactose intolerant, replacing lost dairy nutrients is important. Calcium is one such example and is needed for the health of your bones, heart, muscles and nerves. Non-dairy sources of calcium include the following:

  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Turnip
  • Collard greens
  • Edamame
  • Bok choy
  • Okra
  • Figs
  • Almonds
  • Oranges
  • White beans
  • Canned fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines
  • Calcium-fortified foods and beverages such as juices, soy milk, cereal, and tofu
  • Calcium supplement

Treatment options

While you can't make your body produce more lactose, you can ease your lactose intolerance symptoms. You may not have to eliminate all dairy, and instead, can try other strategies:

  • Eat smaller servings of dairy to see if you have some tolerance to lactose.
  • Consume dairy with other foods, which slows the digestive process and reduces symptoms.
  • Try different dairy products, such as cultured yogurt or hard cheeses.
  • Buy lactose-free products.
  • Use lactase supplements such as tablets or drops when you eat or drink dairy products.

Don't ignore abdominal discomfort that accompanies dairy consumption. Instead, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment options if you do have lactose intolerance.


Nancy Lovering is a professional writer, stock photographer and education assistant, with a background in entertainment, business and finance. In her spare time she enjoys running, strength training and reading.

CATEGORIES: Health, Diet, Dairy, Tips, Lactose Intolerance, Lactose