Did you know that 65–75% of the world’s population has trouble digesting dairy products?
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and other products containing dairy. Lactose intolerance is a condition in which your body has a hard time digesting milk and other dairy-containing products. Lactose is normally broken down in the body by an enzyme known as lactase, which is made by cells in the small intestines.
Most people with lactose intolerance develop this intolerance over time. People with lactose intolerance may inherit genes that reduce the body’s ability to produce lactase as they age. Lactose intolerance affects people of all races, but it is more common in people of Asian, African, or South American descent.
What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
Symptoms of lactose intolerance usually began 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming dairy products.
Common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
What kind of tests are used to diagnose lactose intolerance?
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam, including a detailed history and may recommend testing.
Tests used to help diagnose lactose intolerance include:
- Lactose breath test: For this test, you would drink a lactose-containing liquid then breathe into a machine every 30 minutes. This test detects the amount of hydrogen you breathe out. People with lactose intolerance breathe out more hydrogen than normal. This test is more commonly used.
- Lactose tolerance test: For this test, you would drink a lactose-containing liquid. Your healthcare provider will collect blood samples at the beginning of the test, 1 hour after the test begins, and then 2 hours after the test begins. The blood samples can help your healthcare provider determine how well the body is able to digest lactose.
How do you treat lactose intolerance?
If you have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, you should speak with your healthcare provider. Based on the severity of your intolerance, your healthcare provider may recommend avoiding dairy products, taking a lactase enzyme supplement, or consuming lactose-free milk or lactose-free products. Speaking to a dietitian may also be helpful to make sure you can find ways to meet your nutritional requirements for nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, especially if you are avoiding all dairy. A dietitian can also help you read labels, as prepared foods often contain hidden lactose.
Heinz Hammer, Christoph Högenauer, “Lactose intolerance: Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and management,” UpToDate, February 19, 2020.
Praveen Roy, “Lactose Intolerance,” Medscape, December 4, 2019.
MedlinePlus, “Lactose Intolerance,” August 19, 2020.