Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Lactose Intolerance

A boy drinking buttermilk

How to Manage Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is an aversion to dairy products. This aversion is caused by the digestive system’s inability to digest or process dairy products, which can tamper with the quality of life of those who suffer from it. Lactose intolerance is a condition that is quite common and affects almost 70% of the world’s population.

Lactose intolerance can also be said to be a disorder of the digestive system that makes it unable to digest lactose, a primary or vital carbohydrate in dairy products.

Lactose comes in handy with a number of causes and symptoms. Some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance are bloating, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Although, sometimes, these symptoms could be as a result of another underlying illness. This is why it is important to get yourself checked at the hospital to be sure of what exactly you are suffering from.

The major cause of lactose intolerance is the inability of its victim’s body to provide enough lactase that is expected for the digestion of lactose. When the body is lactase deficient, whatever dairy product that gets into the digestive system remains unprocessed, as the major enzyme which is supposed to do the processing job is lacking. This, in return, would disrupt the proper functioning of the digestive system.

Lactase is a kind of disaccharide. It contains galactose and glucose in tiny amounts-usually one molecule of each of these simple sugars. Normally, lactose is an enzyme that is programmed to break down glucose and galactose, thus, making them absorbable by the bloodstream for the provision of energy.

When an insufficient amount of lactase is produced, it goes down undigested and does not even get to the point of being absorbed, thereby causing certain digestive issues.

In addition, since breastmilk is also a dairy product, it contains lactose. However, since everyone is born with the ability to digest breastmilk and its lactose content, it is rare to see infants and young children of about 5 years old suffering from lactose intolerance.

According to statistics, over 60% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, and the risks it comes with varies on the country in which victims find themselves.

In other words, lactose intolerance occurs when the major carbohydrate in dairy products ends up undigested and unabsorbed in the body due to the insufficient production of the lactase-an essential enzyme that ensures the digestion and absorption of the lactose in dairy foods.

Dairy Products

As nutritional as dairy products are, people with dairy intolerance may just have to avoid the consumption of dairy products.

Dairy products, otherwise known as products from milk, are rich in proteins, vitamins A, B12, and D. This combination of nutrients is awesome for the development and growth of healthy bones.

They have also been associated with a reduction in the risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Despite all these health benefits of lactose, people who suffer from lactose intolerance will still have to avoid dairy products as much as they can.


There are two kinds of lactose intolerance, and each of these kinds has its own unique cause that is peculiar to it. The following are the types of lactose intolerance;

  • Primary lactose intolerance
  • Secondary lactose intolerance

Primary Lactose Intolerance

This is the most traditional type of lactose intolerance. It occurs as a result of aging. Normally, as you age, certain body functions begin to reduce their efficiency by a tiny percent. Certain organs of the body begin to get less functional compared to how effectively they functioned when you were much younger.

Primary lactose is a condition that happens only when the body does not get to produce sufficient lactate for the absorption of lactose as a result of old age. Automatically, dairy products may struggle to get digested here but would definitely end up being poorly absorbed.

The factor which is considered the suspect (asides from aging) of this condition is genes. This is because research found that primary lactose is more common in some generations than it is in other generations.

Statistics estimated lactose intolerance to be affecting about 70% of Africans, 20% of Europeans, 65% of Asians, and 40% of Americans.

Secondary Lactose Intolerance

This kind of lactose intolerance is quite rare. Though it is not as common as primary lactose intolerance, however, it is more severe and prominent in its victims.

Secondary lactose intolerance, unlike its primary counterpart, is caused by certain illnesses like a stomach bug and, in serious cases, illnesses like celiac disease. It is normally as a result of an inflammation caused to the stomach and small intestine walls that can result in the decline or reduction in the production of the lactase enzyme.

In other words, primary lactose intolerance is caused by age, and genes, while secondary, on the other hand, is caused by inflammation to the stomach and small intestine walls, which can be a pointer to a particular illness or disease. Each cause of lactose intolerance leads to one thing, the reduced production of the lactase enzyme in the body.


menstrual painIf left untreated, the condition of lactose intolerance can worsen over time, especially when they are caused by inflammation to the stomach and intestine walls and are an underlying pointer to certain illnesses or diseases. The most common manifestations of lactose intolerance are;

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
Other symptoms may include;

The urgency to use the toilet. Every episode of the excretion feeling comes as an urgency. The urgency to use the toilet can also come in handy with nausea, cramps in the lower belly, which can cause discomfort and trigger vomiting, and most of the time, constipation.

Diarrhea, which is one of the major symptoms of lactose intolerance, happens when lactose gets undigested but remains in the small intestine, which causes water to enter into the digestive tract.

When this accumulated lactose gets to the colon, it gets fermented, a bacterium in the intestine, thereby producing what is called gas and a short-chain fatty acid. This is what causes the discomfort and pain, as well as the bloating in the stomach.

How severe your condition can get depends solely on how much tolerance your body can have for the tiniest of lactose. It also depends on the amount of dairy product you have eaten or the amount of lactose you have deposited in your body from dairy products.

In other words, lactose intolerance can result in digestive issues, which give off symptoms like bloating and cramps, among others.

In order to prevent the discomfort that comes with lactose intolerance, it is best to identify those lactose-laden foods and avoid them. Some of the foods which contain lactose include;

Other kinds of foods that may contain certain amounts of lactose include;

  • Cakes
  • Cookies and biscuits
  • Cereals
  • Processed meats
  • Ready meals
  • Milky sauce meals
  • Potato chips
  • Bread and other baked products
  • Custards and dessert

Other Names for Dairy

Whenever you visit the supermarket to get edibles as lactose intolerant victims, it is important to check the descriptions of what you are buying in order to know if they contain milk or not. The following are possible other names that can be used in the label of milk-laced edibles. When you see any of these on a label, do not hesitate to drop that product.

  • Milk sugar
  • Cheese
  • Curds
  • Milk casein
  • Whey
  • Milk solids
  • Malted milk
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Buttermilk
  • Milk sugar
  • Milk soda
  • Sour cream

Edibles that contain lactic acid, lactate, lactalbumin, or casein are safe for you, as they are not lactose.

Are Lactose Intolerant Victims Losing Out on Essential Nutrients?

Well, they are not completely losing out, as some other foods contain as many nutrients as milk and can also be healthy substitutes for dairy products. Some of these foods include;

  • Calcium-rich foods; plants and animal-based
  • Boned fish
  • Fortified non-dairy milk and juice
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Soybeans
  • Dried figs
  • Cooked mustard greens
  • Tahini
  • Almond butter

swine fluRemoving milk from your diet means you can replace it with any of these in order for you not to lose out on essential nutrients.


The following are treatment suggestions for lactose intolerance;

  • Enzyme supplement; they can help enhance the lactase enzyme and cause it to properly digest and absorb dairy products.
  • Prebiotics and probiotics; can also improve your lactose intolerant condition.
  • Lactose exposure; introduction of tiny amounts of lactose in your diet as a lactose intolerant person would help your body get used to it over time.

In conclusion, being lactose intolerant does not mean you are completely losing out on essential nutrients, as you can still enjoy these nutritional benefits with the right combination of dairy foods alternatives.