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Lactose Intolerance – Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment + Diet Tips

Medically reviewed by Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD ND
by
Lactose Intolerance – Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment + Diet Tips November 30, 2018

About 65% of people worldwide suffer from some form of lactose intolerance, more so as they age. This number is not small, which is why we must know more about this condition and the outcomes.

But lactose intolerance can sure be treated. Naturally. In this post, we’ll tell you about the natural treatment options and some wonderful tips to manage lactose intolerance. Just keep reading!

Table Of Contents

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

This is an intolerance to lactose, which is the sugar in dairy products (like milk). Some individuals just don’t have enough lactase enzyme that are 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.

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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.

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Types And Causes Of Lactose Intolerance

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

  • Primary Lactose Intolerance

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, Sweden’s 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.

  • Secondary Lactose Intolerance

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.

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Lactose Intolerance Diagnostic Tests

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

  • Lactose Tolerance Blood Test – It also involves observing your body’s 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 a lactose diet.
  • 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.

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Dairy Allergy Vs. Lactose Intolerance

These terms may sound similar, but there are differences.

Lactose Intolerance

  • It is caused by the lack of the lactase enzyme responsible for digesting milk sugar (lactose).
  • Lactose intolerance can develop at any stage of your life.
  • It 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.
  • It is more common in certain populations than the others. See demographics above.

Milk Allergy

  • It is caused by an allergy to milk proteins – mostly casein.
  • It usually develops in the early stages of one’s life.
  • It is a result of a malfunctioning immune system that attacks milk proteins.
  • Milk allergy is more common in infants and children but may surface at other ages as well.
  • It is the most common type of food allergy among children.

Now that you know the differences, let’s look at the foods that may aggravate lactose intolerance.

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Foods That Aggravate Lactose Intolerance

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, Gruyère, 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.

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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.

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Natural Remedies To Treat Lactose Intolerance

  1. Vitamins
  2. Apple Cider Vinegar
  3. Essential Oils
  4. Eggs
  5. Lemon Juice
  6. Aloe Vera Juice
  7. Kombucha
  8. Kefir
  9. Bone Broth
  10. Coconut Oil
  11. Lactase Enzyme Supplement
  12. Lactaid Milk

Home Remedies To Treat Lactose Intolerance

1. Vitamins

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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.

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2. Apple Cider Vinegar

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You Will Need
  • 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 glass of warm water
What You Have To Do
  1. Mix a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water.
  2. Drink the mixture.
How Often You Should Do This

You must drink this once daily.

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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3. Essential Oils

a. Lemon Essential Oil

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You Will Need
  • 1 drop of lemon essential oil
  • 1 glass of cold water
What You Have To Do
  1. Add a drop of lemon essential oil to a glass of cold water.
  2. Mix well and drink.
How Often You Should Do This

You must drink this once daily.

Why This Works

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

b. Peppermint Oil

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You Will Need
  • 1 drop of peppermint oil
  • 1 glass of water
What You Have To Do
  1. Mix a drop of peppermint oil in a glass of water.
  2. Drink the concoction.
How Often You Should Do This

You must drink this at least once daily.

Why This Works

Peppermint oil soothes your digestive functions. It aids digestion and relieves bloating and gas (4).

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4. Eggs

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You Will Need

2 eggs

What You Have To Do
  1. Either hard boil two eggs or cook them in any other preferred way.
  2. Consume them.
How Often You Should Do This

You must consume 2 eggs daily.

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 (5), (6).

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5. Lemon Juice

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You Will Need
  • ½ lemon
  • 1 glass of water
  • ½ teaspoon honey
What You Have To Do
  1. Add the juice of half a lemon to a glass of water.
  2. Mix well and add honey.
  3. Consume the lemon juice.
How Often You Should Do This

You must drink this once daily.

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).

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6. Aloe Vera Juice

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You Will Need

½ cup of aloe vera juice

What You Have To Do

Consume half a cup of fresh aloe vera juice daily.

How Often You Should Do This

You must drink this 1 to 2 times daily.

Why This Works

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

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7. Kombucha

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You Will Need

1 glass of kombucha

What You Have To Do
  1. Consume a glass of kombucha daily.
  2. You can either drink store-bought kombucha or make kombucha tea at home (you just have to steep the tea bags in hot water).
How Often You Should Do This

You must drink this once daily.

Why This Work

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

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8. Kefir

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You Will Need

1 cup of water or dairy-free kefir

What You Have To Do

Consume a cup of kefir water (dairy-free).

How Often You Should Do This

You must drink this at least once daily.

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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9. Bone Broth

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You Will Need

8 to 12 ounces of bone broth

What You Have To Do

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).

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10. Coconut Oil

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You Will Need

Coconut oil (as per requirement)

What You Have To Do

Replace butter with coconut oil in your diet.

How Often You Should Do This

You must do this daily.

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).

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11. Lactase Enzyme Supplement

You Will Need

Lactase enzyme capsules or tablets

What You Have To Do

Consume lactase enzyme supplements after consulting your doctor.

How Often You Should Do This

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).

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12. Lactaid Milk

You Will Need

Lactaid milk

What You Have To Do

Consume lactaid milk.

How Often You Should Do This

Consume it based on your doctor’s recommendation.

Why This Works

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

These remedies can help you manage lactose intolerance rather easily. Don’t fail to try them out. Although this condition cannot be prevented, it can be treated easily with proper care and diet.

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How did you like this article? Tell us in the comments below.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

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, 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.

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 quantity of milk is good for the lactose intolerant?

Lactose intolerant individuals can 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 don’t see any side effects. Also, you should only eat or drink dairy products every 3 days so you don’t build up further intolerance.

References:

1. “Vitamin B12 in meat and dairy products” Nutrition Reviews, US National Library of Medicine
2. “A Novel Delivery System of Peppermint Oil Is an Effective Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms” Digestive Diseases and Sciences, US National Library of Medicine
3. “Vitamin B12 bioavailability from egg yolk and egg white: relationship to binding proteins” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine
4. “THE VITAMIN D CONTENT OF EGG YOLK” Canadian Medical Association Journal, US National Library of Medicine
5. “Current evidence on physiological activity and expected health effects of kombucha fermented beverage” The Journal of Medicinal Food, US National Library of Medicine
6. “Sequence-based analysis of the bacterial and fungal compositions of multiple kombucha (tea fungus) samples” Food Microbiology, US National Library of Medicine
7. “Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil, Pharmaceutical Biology, US National Library of Medicine
8. “Management and treatment of lactose malabsorption” World Journal of Gastroenterology, US National Library of Medicine

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