6 Symptoms Show You May Be Lactose Intolerant

Lactose Intolerant

Diarrhea, Nausea, Borborygmi (rumbling or gurgling sounds in the stomach), Abdominal Cramps, Bloating and/or Gas, are all symptoms of lactose intolerance after eating foods that are not lactose intolerant. I personally am lactose intolerant and it can be difficult at first to understand the Do’s and Dont’s when you are.

What is lactose?

Lactose is the normal sugar found in your milk products. Lactose intolerance occurs when your small intestine doesn’t produce enough of an enzyme (lactase) to digest milk sugar (lactose).

What is Lactase?

Lactase is an enzyme that splits the milk sugar lactose, to produce the sugars glucose and galactose, which are absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal lining.

Did you know manufacturers add lactase to milk products to make them lactose-free?

There are 4 types of lactose intolerance:

1) Primary lactose intolerance – This is the most common of the 3. Primary lactose intolerance is genetically determined, occurring in a large proportion of people with African, Asian or Hispanic ancestry. The condition is also common among those of Mediterranean or Southern European descent.

2) Secondary lactose intolerance – The small intestine decreases lactase production after an illness, injury or surgery involving your small intestine. Among the diseases associated with secondary lactose intolerance are celiac disease, bacterial overgrowth, and Crohn’s disease. Treatment for this underlying disorder would be to try and lactase levels and improve signs and symptoms, though it can take time.

3) Congenital lactose intolerance – An extremely rare disorder, but can be caused by a little or complete absence of lactase activity. Inherited, usually in newborns passed down from generation to generation called autosomal recessive. Autosomal recessive disorder means two copies of an abnormal gene must be present in order for the disease or trait to develop. In this case, both parents would have to be lactase deficient.

4) Developmental lactose intolerance – Typical in premature newborns and usually lasts for a short time.

Is lactose intolerance dangerous?

It can be if you aren’t getting enough of essential nutrients, such as Vitamin D and calcium. These two nutrients work hand in hand. Taking vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption.

How is it diagnosed?

Medical tests or physical exam. However, it can also be diagnosed from family, medical and diet history including review and symptoms.

If you are lactose intolerant, you can either change your diet and/or take a lactase supplement while eating foods with a lot of lactose in them. Taking a lactase supplement can help because it contains the lactase you need.

Foods with the most lactose in them

  • Milk, milkshakes and other milk-based beverages
  • Whipping cream and coffee creamer
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Puddings, custards
  • Cream soups, cream sauces
  • Foods made with milk
  • Ice cream, ice milk, sherbet

Lactose-free milk is a suitable alternative. As I mentioned before lactose-free milk is supplemented with lactase, the enzyme that people with lactose intolerance do not have enough of and that is required to properly break down lactose. If you prefer to avoid dairy you can try rice milk, soymilk or almond milk but, be aware that only enriched varieties provide the same calcium content as regular milk.

Most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate some amount of lactose in their diet and do not need to avoid milk or milk products completely. However, individuals vary in the amount of lactose they can tolerate.

Children and adults need to make sure they are getting their recommended daily allowance of calcium.

Source: Adapted from Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, November 2010.
Table 1. Recommended Dietary Allowance of calcium by age group
Age Group Recommended Dietary Allowance (mg/day)
1–3 years 700 mg
4–8 years 1,000 mg
9–18 years 1,300 mg
19–50 years 1,000 mg
51–70 years, males 1,000 mg
51–70 years, females 1,200 mg
70+ years 1,200 mg
14–18 years, pregnant/breastfeeding 1,300 mg
19–50 years, pregnant/breastfeeding 1,000 mg

A U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium has not been determined for infants. However, researchers suggest 200 mg of calcium per day for infants age 0 to 6 months and 260 mg for infants age 6 to 12 months.3

Table 2 lists foods that are good sources of dietary calcium.

Table 2. Calcium content in common foods
Nonmilk Products Calcium Content
sardines, with bone, 3.75 oz. 351 mg
rhubarb, frozen, cooked, 1 cup 348 mg
soy milk, original and vanilla, with added calcium and vitamins A and D 299 mg
spinach, frozen, cooked, 1 cup 291 mg
salmon, canned, with bone, 3 oz. 181 mg
pinto beans, cooked, 1 cup 79 mg
broccoli, cooked, 1 cup 62 mg
soy milk, original and vanilla, unfortified, 1 cup 61 mg
orange, 1 medium 52 mg
lettuce, green leaf, 1 cup 13 mg
tuna, white, canned, 3 oz. 12 mg
Milk and Milk Products
yogurt, plain, skim milk, 8 oz. 452 mg
milk, reduced fat, with added vitamins A and D, 1 cup 293 mg
Swiss cheese, 1 oz. 224 mg
cottage cheese, low fat, 1 cup 206 mg
ice cream, vanilla, 1/2 cup 84 mg

Source: Adapted from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2013. USDA national nutrient database for standard reference, release 26.

The best advice I can give is to go see the proper dietician and/or doctor about getting the essential nutrients needed for your individual needs.






2 thoughts on “6 Symptoms Show You May Be Lactose Intolerant”

  1. Great explanation. My daughter was diagnosed last year with lactose intolerance. We were struggling to determine what was causing her systems because instead of gas, it was vomiting. Not something you normally think of with dairy.


    1. Thank you! I am lactose intolerant as well. I’ve never vomited and I’m sorry your daughter had to suffer like that. I’m sure she is doing much better now and I am glad you found out what the issue was. Thanks for reading.


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