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Lactose Intolerance 101

Being lactose intolerant is hard, but you can make it easier. Read this article to find information about what causes the condition and how you can use it for your benefit.

Mark Robertson
Lactose Intolerance 101
Table Of Contents

Did you know that once the babies are weaned off, most of their bodies reduce the production of lactase hormone, which results in lactose intolerance?

According to research almost 70% of the world population suffers some degree of lactose intolerance in their life at some point in time.

Does this figure make you ever wonder if you’re also lactose intolerant? It turns out that many people are lactose intolerant and don't even know it.

If you're intrigued by the possibility of being lactose intolerant, there are a few symptoms to look out for that we have compiled for you in this article.

And hey, even if you are lactose intolerant, don't worry; we'll tell you exactly how to go about it.

What is lactose Intolerance?

Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. When we eat food containing lactose, our bodies produce an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down the lactose into two simpler sugars, glucose and galactose. These simple sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream and used for energy.

Most people are born with high levels of lactase in their gut, allowing them to digest lactose without problems. However, some people are born with lower lactase levels or may develop lactose intolerance later in life.

People who are lactose intolerant lack the enzyme lactase, which means their bodies cannot break down lactose. As a result, they may experience symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc., after consuming dairy products.

Signs and Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

Even though the symptoms vary from person to person, here are the most general signs and symptoms to look out for if you think you might be lactose intolerant.

Stomach Pain and Bloating

Lactose intolerance is a condition that prevents the body from adequately digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

When lactose is not broken down, it passes through the digestive system and into the intestine, where bacteria ferment it.

This fermentation process produces gas and can cause stomach pain and bloating, generally around the lower abdomen or the naval area.

There are different degrees of lactose intolerance. Some people may tolerate small amounts of lactose, while others may experience severe symptoms after just a few bites of dairy.


Diarrhea is referred to as an increase in the frequency of bowel movements or loose and watery stools. Passing more than 7 ounces (200 grams) of stool in 24 hours is considered diarrhea.

Lactose intolerance can cause diarrhea for a few different reasons. First, lactose is a sugar molecule that is not easily broken down by the digestive enzymes in our gut. This means that when we consume dairy products, the lactose can travel undigested through our intestines, drawing water into the intestine and causing diarrhea.

Secondly, as lactose ferments in our gut, it produces gas and other chemicals that can lead to cramping and diarrhea.

Finally, some people who are intolerant to lactose may also have an allergy to cow's milk protein, which can cause an inflammatory reaction in the gut and lead to diarrhea.


The fermentation of lactose in the colon creates more hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide. In fact, in people who are intolerant to lactose, their colon microflora becomes very good at fermenting lactose into acids and gases, resulting in increased flatulence.

The amount of gas produced by people varies a lot. This is because of the differences in how efficient people's gut bacteria are and how quickly the gas is reabsorbed. Interestingly, the gases produced from lactose fermentation don't have an odor. The smell of gases comes from the breakdown of proteins in the gut, not carbohydrates.

Types of Lactose Intolerance

Even though lactose intolerance is basically the incapability of your body to produce sufficient enzymes, there are different kinds of lactose intolerant people.

The main reason of insufficient lactase enzyme remains, the same but the reasons behind this low production differs which leads to variety of lactose intolerance:

Primary Lactose Intolerance

The most common and basic lactose intolerance that the majority of the people suffer occurs due to the aging factor. This is where your body stops producing the enzyme lactase or produces very little amount.

This reduced production can be caused when the baby is weaned off or even later in life. According to research, under 10% of Northern European people, approx. 50% of Latin and Middle Eastern people, and almost 80–99% of African and Asian people are affected by primary lactose intolerance.

Secondary Lactose Intolerance

The secondary lactose intolerance is caused by an injury or an underlying disease. If your small intestine has suffered an injury, been through a surgery or you have a disease such as celiac or inflammatory bowel syndrome, you’re likely to suffer poor lactase production.

Fortunately, for this particular degree of intolerance, the patient can regain the ability to digest lactose if the underlying disease is treated.

Congenital Lactose Intolerance

This kind of intolerance is not something that develops over the years but an individual is born with it. Unfortunately, lactose intolerance is one of the problems that can be inherited by the child at the time of birth from either of the parents.

If a child is born with lactose intolerance, it means that their body does not have the capability to produce the lactase enzyme at all. This congenital lactose intolerance can be detected at the time of birth, as the baby will not be able to digest the mother’s feed or the formula being fed.

The baby will instantly get diarrhea as soon as it gets the first feed. If the intolerance is not recognized early on, this situation can get life threatening because the diarrhea means loss of electrolytes and severe dehydration.

Tests for Lactose Intolerance

Now that we’ve described exactly what lactose intolerance is and what do individuals may suffer if their body doesnt digest the lactose properly, here are a few test that you can get done:

  • Hydrogen Breath Test: In this test, your breath is tested for hydrogen levels after you have consumed lactose. High levels of hydrogen in your breath indicate poor digestion that may be related to lactose intolerance or maybe some other issue.
  • Lactose Tolerance Test: This is a blood test. In this particular test, the individual consumes lactose and then after a while the blood sugar levels are tested. If the blood sugar level stays the same, it means that the individual is lactose intolerant.

This is easily determined because lactose is a form of sugar which is broken down into simpler sugar by the lactase enzyme, and if the blood sugar remains the same it means that the lactose was never digested/broken by the body.

  • Genetic Test: In this test the individual is tested for genetic lactose intolerance. Unfortunately in this test the results may come out to be false negative.
  • Lactase Activity At Jejunal Brush Border: In this test a biopsy of the jejunal border (a part at the end of your small intestine) is done. Even though this is one of the best tests that is sure to give you the perfect results it is an expensive one as well.
  • Stool Acidity Test: This particular test involves testing the acidity levels in the stool and is conducted for small babies. If the pH level is low, it indicates that the baby is lactose intolerant.

Foods to Eat and Avoid

Whether you can or cannot afford to get the tests done or are looking for easier ways to identify the intolerance, here is what you can do.

Below we have listed everything that you can or cannot eat if you’re lactose intolerant. What you can do is, try out the elimination technique and avoid all the lactose-containing food items listed below for a good 2 weeks and then slowly reintroduce meals containing lactose in your diet.

This will allow you to see if you’re intolerant to lactose or not.

Once your body tells you about your incapability to digest lactose, then maybe you can consider spending some money on getting yourself tested.

Foods to Eat

Some people might still be able to have a little glass of milk without experiencing any side effects. Others could even be unable to have milk in their tea or coffee. According to experts, people with lactose intolerance can tolerate varied quantities of lactose.

Recent studies have also revealed that lactose-intolerant people can gradually increase their tolerance by consuming modest amounts of milk over time. It can gradually alter their gut flora and make lactose simpler to digest. However, here's what you can eat.

Consume Foods Low in Lactose: Add hard cheeses like Parmesan and Cheddar into your diet. They contain little to no lactose and are easy to digest.

Add Probiotics: Consuming probiotics from fermented dairies, such as yogurt or kefir, can aid in lactose digestion because they contain certain beneficial bacteria responsible for the easy digestion of lactose. Ingestion of probiotics can also help relieve the symptoms like gas and bloating.

Combine Lactose-Containing Foods With Meals: Consuming other solid foods with lactose-containing foods will help you tolerate lactose better.

Try Chocolate Milk: The effects of lactose in milk decrease by the chocolate's cocoa content. Even though many dark chocolates are dairy- and lactose-free, milk chocolates are typically tolerated well and do not cause symptoms.

Foods to Avoid

Lactose is found mainly in milk products such as yogurt, cheese, and butter. However, it's found in other foods too. Some of the foods to avoid are given below.

Dairy Foods: Some dairy products contain lactose in low amounts, and people with lactose intolerance may tolerate it. For example, butter contains traces of the enzyme and can be digested by those with an intolerance for lactose.

Although if they are consumed in higher amounts, it may cause symptoms of digestive disorders.

Here is a list of dairy that you must avoid:

  • Cow, goat, or buffalo’s milk
  • Soft cheeses, such as cream cheese, cottage cheese, mozzarella, and ricotta
  • Butter and yogurt
  • Ice cream, frozen yogurt, and dairy-based sherbet
  • Buttermilk
  • Sour cream, whipped cream

Prepared Foods: Lactose is present in dairy products and prepared foods. Reading the label of the food products at the time of purchase can prevent you from buying lactose-containing food. Here's a list of food that contains lactose.

  • Convenience meals
  • Instant potato mixes
  • Cream-based or cheesy sauces, soups, and gravies
  • Bread, tortillas, crackers, and biscuits
  • Baked goods and desserts
  • Creamed vegetables
  • Waffle, pancake, muffin, and cake mixes
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Processed meats, including hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and cold cuts
  • Instant coffee
  • Salad dressings
  • Flavored potato chips

Benefits of a Dairy-Free Diet

Although dairy is an essential part of many meals, it's not as difficult to cut it out of your diet as you may think.

Everything seems hard before you begin, but once you start doing something, it gets easier.

So start cutting out dairy products for the sake of your lactose intolerance, and see how much better you feel!

Promotes Weight Loss

For many people, cutting out dairy can be a great way to lose weight. Dairy products are high in calories and fat, and eliminating them from your diet can help you to slim down quickly.

In addition, dairy products can also be high in sugar, which can lead to weight gain. By eliminating dairy from your diet, you can help to regulate your blood sugar levels and avoid spikes in insulin that can lead to weight gain.

Finally, dairy products can also contain hormones that can influence your weight. By going dairy free, you can avoid these hormones and help to maintain a healthy weight.

Improves Digestion

Dairy products are a common cause of digestive distress, and eliminating them from your diet can provide relief from symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Dairy products are difficult to digest because they contain lactose, a sugar that our bodies cannot break down.

When we eat dairy products, the lactose stays in our intestines and ferments, causing digestive discomfort. In addition, many people are sensitive to the proteins in milk, which can also lead to indigestion.

Eliminating dairy from your diet can help you to avoid these symptoms and feel more comfortable after eating.

Benefits for Acne

For many people, acne is an unwelcome companion that seemingly appears out of nowhere and just won't go away. While there are a number of factors that can contribute to the development of acne, diet is one area that you may be able to control.

In particular, consuming dairy products has been linked to an increased risk of developing acne. Dairy products contain hormones that can promote inflammation, as well as sugar and other components that can trigger breakouts.

As a result, going dairy-free may help to reduce the frequency and severity of your acne breakouts. In addition to avoiding dairy products, you can also help to control your acne by keeping your skin clean and moisturized, and by avoiding touching your face.

With some effort and trial-and-error, you may be able to find the right combination of treatments to get your acne under control.

Improves Thyroid Health

Anyone who has struggled with thyroid problems knows that they can be extremely frustrating and difficult to manage. A variety of factors can contribute to thyroid problems, but one common culprit is dairy. Dairy products are a major source of iodine, and too much iodine can trigger or aggravate thyroid problems.

For people who are struggling with thyroid issues, going dairy-free can be a simple and effective way to improve their health. By eliminating dairy from their diet, they can reduce their intake of iodine and give their thyroid a chance to heal.

In addition, going dairy-free can also help to improve other aspects of health, such as digestion and joint pain. For people who are looking for a natural way to improve their thyroid health, going dairy-free is definitely worth considering.

How to Cope With lactose intolerance

Even though lactose intolerance has caused you to suffer various issues, and you are aware of how a dairy free diet can benefit you, it still can be difficult for some people to give up on dairy entirely.

Well, then here is the good news for you all.

There are a few natural ways for you to try out that can help you in overcoming or atleast easing out the lactose intolerance.

Enzyme Supplements

For those who are lactose intolerant, enzyme supplements can be a helpful way to enjoy dairy products without experiencing unpleasant side effects.

Lactose intolerance occurs when the body doesn't produce enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. As a result, consuming dairy can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

However, taking a lactase supplement can help to neutralize the effect of lactose, allowing people with lactose intolerance to enjoy dairy without discomfort.

While enzyme supplements are not a cure for lactose intolerance, they can provide significant relief and make it possible to enjoy dairy products once again.

But we highly recommend consulting your doctor before consuming any kinds of supplements to avoid any serious issues.

Lactose Exposure

Even though this particular method requires more research, the few studies that have been conducted in this area have shown positive results.

According to some studies the body can adapt to lactose, and even start the production of lactase enzymes if the individual keeps on consuming small amounts of lactose products.

Through regular and consistent exposure to lactose, the body may start to produce sufficient amounts of lactase regardless of the body’s lactase deficiency producing enzyme.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

While there is no cure for lactose intolerance, many people find that they can manage their symptoms by making dietary changes. One dietary approach that has shown promise is the use of prebiotics and probiotics.

Probiotics are live bacteria that occur naturally in the gut, while prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that help nourish the probiotics. Together, prebiotics and probiotics can help improve gut health and reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance.


1. How does lactose intolerance affect the body?

Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down the lactose in food. People who can't digest lactose can experience unpleasant symptoms after eating dairy products.

2. Is it possible to be lactose intolerant without symptoms?

Most people can tolerate a certain amount of lactose before having symptoms. Lactose intolerance is different from a milk allergy. A milk allergy is an immune system disorder, while lactose is a sugar in milk and milk products.

3. What is lactose intolerance, and how to treat it?

It is a digestive disorder in which the body can't digest lactose due to a low amount of lactase. You can treat it by avoiding a lactose rich diet.


Lactose intolerance is a condition in which people have difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.There are several ways to make it easier to digest lactose, such as taking probiotics, using lactase enzyme pills, or consuming lactose-containing foods with other solid foods.

Certain dairy products, prepared foods, and processed meats may contain high amounts of lactose and should be avoided by people with lactose intolerance. Cutting out dairy from your diet can have several benefits, including weight loss, improved digestion, and healthier skin.

Reading List

Article Sources

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  • Facioni, Maria Sole, et al. ‘Nutritional Management of Lactose Intolerance: The Importance of Diet and Food Labelling’. Journal of Translational Medicine, vol. 18, June 2020, p. 260. PubMed Central,
  • Farnetti, Sara, et al. ‘Functional and Metabolic Disorders in Celiac Disease: New Implications for Nutritional Treatment’. Journal of Medicinal Food, vol. 17, no. 11, Nov. 2014, pp. 1159–64. PubMed,
  • Heine, Ralf G., et al. ‘Lactose Intolerance and Gastrointestinal Cow’s Milk Allergy in Infants and Children – Common Misconceptions Revisited’. The World Allergy Organization Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, Dec. 2017, p. 41. PubMed Central,
  • Juhl, Christian R., et al. ‘Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults’. Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 8, Aug. 2018, p. 1049. PubMed Central,
  • Malik, Talia F., and Kiran K. Panuganti. ‘Lactose Intolerance’. StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2022. PubMed,
  • Szilagyi, Andrew. ‘Adult Lactose Digestion Status and Effects on Disease’. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, vol. 29, no. 3, Apr. 2015, pp. 149–56. PubMed,
  • Szilagyi, Andrew, and Norma Ishayek. ‘Lactose Intolerance, Dairy Avoidance, and Treatment Options’. Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 12, Dec. 2018, p. 1994. PubMed Central,
  • Leis, Rosaura, et al. ‘Effects of Prebiotic and Probiotic Supplementation on Lactase Deficiency and Lactose Intolerance: A Systematic Review of Controlled Trials’. Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 5, May 2020, p. E1487. PubMed,
  • Szilagyi, Andrew. ‘Adaptation to Lactose in Lactase Non Persistent People: Effects on Intolerance and the Relationship between Dairy Food Consumption and Evalution of Diseases’. Nutrients, vol. 7, no. 8, Aug. 2015, pp. 6751–79. PubMed,
  • ---. ‘Adult Lactose Digestion Status and Effects on Disease’. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, vol. 29, no. 3, Apr. 2015, pp. 149–56. PubMed,
  • Deng, Yanyong, et al. ‘Lactose Intolerance in Adults: Biological Mechanism and Dietary Management’. Nutrients, vol. 7, no. 9, Sept. 2015, pp. 8020–35. PubMed Central,

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Mark Robertson

Mr. Robertson is a competent writer, and speaker who specializes in helping families transition to plant-based lifestyles. He believes awareness, evidence-based information, and humor are three key ingredients for leading a healthy life.

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