Lactose Intolerance - PIH Health

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Published on April 13, 2015

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which your body cannot easily digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products1. Some people think it’s a food allergy, but that’s not really true because your body’s immune system is not involved.

Lactose IntoleranceLactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine does not make enough of an enzyme, called lactase, that’s needed to break down or digest lactose. The undigested lactose then moves through the large intestine and causes uncomfortable symptoms such as gas, stomach ache, bloating and diarrhea.

The condition is most common in Native Americans and people of Asian, African and South American descent. It can also run in families, and the symptoms usually develop in the teen or adult years. The symptoms of lactose intolerance can be mild to severe. Some people can tolerate small amounts of milk products, while others cannot digest any.

“If you think you may have lactose intolerance, talk to your primary care physician to ensure that your symptoms are not caused by another problem or related to other health issues,” said Cesar L. Espiritu MD, PIH Health family medicine doctor at the Lambert medical office building. “Similar symptoms can be caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, overuse of laxatives or allergic reactions.”

Below are some tips to prevent symptoms of lactose intolerance:

  • Limit the amount of milk and milk products in your diet
  • Eat or drink milk products along with other foods
  • Eat small amounts of milk or milk products throughout the day
  • Choose milk products that have reduced lactose
  • Use lactase supplements to help digest lactose
  • Eat yogurt with live cultures instead of pasteurized
  • Be sure to read the list of ingredients to avoid hidden names such as dry milk solids, whey, curds, milk byproducts and nonfat dry milk powder

Approximately 65% of the entire human population has some level of lactose intolerance2. Everyone has a different reaction, which means what works for one person may not work for another. Since there is no cure for lactose intolerance, controlling your symptoms are up to you to manage on a daily basis.

When you are lactose intolerant, you need to ensure that you get enough nutrients found in milk products, especially calcium. Calcium is essential for strong bones and to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. You can get calcium from these nondairy foods:

  • Vegetables such as broccoli, okra, kale, collards and turnip greens
  • Canned sardines, tuna and salmon
  • Calcium fortified juices and cereals
  • Calcium-fortified soy products such as soy milk, tofu and soybeans
  • Almonds

In order for your body to absorb calcium, it needs vitamin D, which most people get by being outside in the sun for short periods each day. Vitamin D is also found in fortified orange juice, fortified soy milk, oily fish, egg yolks and liver.

Other important nutrients found in milk products are magnesium, potassium, protein and riboflavin. Ask your doctor if you should take daily vitamins or supplements to meet your dietary needs.



The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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