Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. It’s a widespread issue that affects up to 68 percent of the population.
To break down lactose molecules, your small intestines normally create an enzyme called lactase. When you have lactose intolerance, your body does not create enough of this enzyme to adequately break down the milk sugar.
Lactose intolerance manifests as symptoms such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach rumbling
Lactose intolerance symptoms are comparable to those of other digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, a wide range of foods may cause IBS, while lactose intolerance is exclusive to dairy.
A milk allergy, which is distinct from lactose intolerance, is also conceivable. Milk allergies trigger an immunological response, which might result in more significant symptoms such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Throat swelling
- Tingling around your mouth
Lactose intolerance symptoms normally appear 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingesting dairy and should disappear after the dairy has passed through your digestive system – usually within 48 hours.
Lactose intolerance is seldom fatal, although it may cause gastrointestinal pain.
The intensity of your symptoms might vary depending on how much lactose you ingest and how much lactase your body generates.
All of the symptoms of lactose intolerance should go away within 48 hours, if not sooner. These symptoms will remain as long as lactose is present in your system:
- Bloating. Bloating is caused by water and gas trapped in your intestines. Bloating discomfort is often felt around the abdominal button.
- Nausea. If you have lactose intolerance, you may feel nauseated within 2 hours after consuming dairy.
- Diarrhea. Lactose ferments in your intestines, causing increased water retention.
- Gas. Lactose fermentation in the stomach may result in the accumulation of hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide.
- Pain. Lactose intolerant patients often experience stomach pain. Pain is mainly caused by trapped gas pressing on the intestines’ walls.
Both dietary intolerances and food allergies may induce stomach pain.
A food allergy activates your immune system, resulting in significant symptoms throughout your body, such as throat swelling. Meal intolerances are caused by an inability to break down a certain meal and normally only produce stomach discomfort.
Here’s how long you may anticipate these additional stomach issues to last:
- IBS. IBS symptoms may continue for days to months at a time.
- Dairy allergy. Symptoms of a dairy allergy normally appear within 2 hours after consuming milk, although they might appear up to 72 hours later if milk is ingested again.
- Gluten intolerance. Gluten sensitivity is a lifelong condition that manifests as quickly after consuming gluten and may linger for days at a time.
- Alcohol intolerance. People with alcohol intolerance often have symptoms within 20 minutes of drinking, and the symptoms might remain until the alcohol has left your system.
Lactose intolerance cannot be cured. It is caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase, and there is currently no method to enhance your body’s production of this enzyme.
Some individuals may benefit from taking lactase pills before consuming dairy products. However, the pills are not suitable for everyone.
Lactose intolerance, although unpleasant, is typically not a dangerous condition.
If you feel you’re lactose intolerant, you should see a doctor to rule out other digestive issues and confirm your diagnosis. A doctor may put you through one of three tests.
Lactose tolerance test
A doctor will take a blood sample and examine your fasting glucose levels during a lactose tolerance test. You will next consume a lactose-containing beverage. The doctor will compare your blood glucose levels to your baseline throughout the following few hours.
If your glucose levels are not high, this indicates that your body is unable to break down lactose into separate sugars and that you are lactose intolerant.
Hydrogen breath test
You will consume a beverage with a high concentration of lactose during the hydrogen breath test. The quantity of hydrogen in your breath will then be measured by a doctor.
If you are lactose intolerant, the fermented lactose in your intestines will cause an increase in hydrogen in your breath.
Stool acidity test
Typically, the stool acidity test is only performed on children who cannot be tested using other procedures. The acidity of a stool sample is measured to detect undigested lactose in the form of lactic acid.
Although lactose intolerance is not treatable, there are techniques to control your symptoms.
- Eat smaller portion sizes. Some lactose intolerant persons can tolerate a tiny quantity of dairy. You may start with a little quantity of dairy to observe how your body responds before gradually increasing your portion sizes.
- Take lactase enzyme tablets. Taking an over-the-counter lactase enzyme pill before a meal may help you ingest dairy. However, the tablets do not work for everyone.
- Take probiotics. Consuming probiotics may help minimize the symptoms of lactose intolerance, according to research.
- Eliminate types of dairy. Lactose levels in hard cheeses, butter, and yogurt are naturally lower than in other forms of dairy.
- Try lactose-free products. Many supermarkets offer dairy products that are lactose-free or have a drastically decreased quantity of dairy.
Lactose intolerance symptoms generally appear between 30 minutes and 2 hours after ingesting dairy.
The symptoms remain until the lactose has passed through your digestive system, which may take up to 48 hours.
Depending on how much dairy you consume, the intensity of your symptoms might range from moderate to severe.
Being lactose intolerant might make it more difficult to meet your daily calcium requirements. You may benefit from include additional dairy-free calcium sources in your diet, such as:
- Canned salmon
- Fortified nondairy milk
- Spinach and kale
- Beans and lentils