Lactose Intolerance

What is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance means that the body cannot easily digest lactose which is a type of natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products. When lactose moves through the large intestine (colon) without being properly digested it can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as gas, belly pain, and bloating. Lactose intolerance is caused by a lactose deficiency or hypolactasia.

In very rare cases individuals have congenital alactasia which is a total absence of lactase caused by a genetic defect which keeps them from being able to digest lactose from infancy, including breast milk. Lactose intolerance is not the same thing as milk allergy which happens when a person’s immune system overreacts to the proteins in milk.

The hydrogen breath test is the most accurate lactose intolerance test and takes about 2.5 hours to complete. A stool acidity test is used to detect lactose intolerance in infants. About 44% of lactose-intolerant women regain the ability to digest lactose during pregnancy. Lactose intolerance occurs mostly among Native Americans, Asians, Africans, and South Americans.

What are the Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

Symptoms include: bloating, pain or cramps in the lower belly, loose stools or diarrhea, flatulence, borborygmi (rumbling stomach), and throwing up.

How is Lactose Intolerance Treated?

Lactose intolerance can be managed by consuming live yogurt cultures containing lactobacilli that are able to digest the lactose in other dairy products. Individuals who are lactose intolerance can consume plant-based “milks” such as soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, hemp milk, and peanut milk. There are many forms of low-lactose and lactose-free foods to choose from.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
August 31, 2017