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7 Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance & Diet to Treat It


Lactose Intolerance - Dr.Axe
Lactose intolerance is a prevalent and distressing condition that affects an estimated 75 percent of individuals across the globe. Lactose is a sugar that is found in dairy products and milk. In order to digest this sugar properly, the small intestine produces the enzyme called lactase.

Lactase is responsible for breaking down the lactose into glucose and galactose, so the body can absorb it. When the body’s ability to make lactase diminishes, the result is lactose intolerance. The symptoms of lactose intolerance arise when the body is unable to digest the lactose and it is not properly absorbed.(1)

However, I believe that with the Lactose Intolerance Diet it is possible to reduce and in some cases eliminate the symptoms of lactose intolerance!

Top 7 Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include:

  • diarrhea
  • gas
  • bloating/swelling in the abdomen
  • abdominal pain/cramping
  • nausea, vomiting
  • headaches or migraines
  • acne

These warning signs of lactose intolerance can arise anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 days after the consumption of dairy products, and can range from mild to severe. Most immediate reactions are caused by the body not having the enzymes to digest the lactose sugar and the intestines contract as a reaction. If you have had an ongoing intolerance more extreme headaches, migraines or bloating can occur over the course of up to two days from these undigested particles entering your body, especially if you have a leaky gut.

The severity of lactose intolerance symptoms depends upon personal tolerations, and the amount consumed. It is important to note that not all dairy products cause these unpleasant symptoms of lactose intolerance.

In fact, yogurt or kefir with live active cultures typically do not produce these symptoms, as the active cultures help to break down lactose prior to consumption.(2) Also the longer the food is fermented, the less the lactose content as the healthy probiotics survive by eating the lactose sugar!

Depending on the severity of your intolerance it may be necessary to take a break from dairy while you heal, but I believe that with the Lactose Intolerance Diet, it won’t have to be a permanent sacrifice!

The Lactose Intolerance Diet

1. Use Organic Fermented Dairy

Organic fermented dairy is great for your health!

Fermented dairy improves the digestibility of the lactose, fats and protein in dairy, but also helps to spur healthy digestive processes of other foods. While the idea of drinking fermented dairy may be off-putting to some, high quality organic kefir is slightly tangy, and creamy, and ultimately satisfying.

It is similar to yogurt, just thinner, and drinkable. Probiotic foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids. Kefir contains high levels of thiamin, B12, folate, B12, and the secret bone-builder, vitamin K.

Vitamin K2 specifically helps calcium to metabolize, creating stronger bones, which is essential to people on a lactose intolerance diet. Organic fermented dairy also helps to increase magnesium levels. Magnesium deficiency is common in people with digestive tract disorders including Celiac and Crohn’s disease, IBS, and lactose intolerance.

You may choose to eliminate all dairy products for a time to help reduce symptoms and help your body heal, but ideally you can begin to swap out regular dairy for fermented dairy which can help to heal the digestive tract, and has enzymes that will actually aid in digestion.

2. Try Goat Milk

Goat milk may be easier on digestive tract than cow milk!

Goat’s milk is high in fatty acids, and it is more easily absorbed and assimilated in the body. The actual fat particles in goat milk are smaller, and contain lower concentrations of lactose.

It takes significantly shorter time to digest goat milk products than it does cow milk products. And yet, it is richer in calcium, phosphorus, iodine, potassium, biotin and pantothenic acid. In addition, there casein levels are reduced making it friendly to those with casein sensitivity.

3. Take Digestive Enzymes That Contain Lactase

Lactase is the enzyme that is lacking in the digestive tract for individuals suffering from lactose intolerance. According to a study published in the Alternative Medicine Review, digestive enzyme supplementation can aid in the breakdown of fats, carbs, and proteins, assisting in efficient digestive function

Taking specially formulated digestive supplements provide a safe treatment for digestive malabsorption disorders, including lactose intolerance. (5)

Take an all natural digestive enzyme at the beginning of each meal, to ensure that foods are fully digested. This also helps to decrease the probability that partially digested foods including proteins, fats and carbohydrates will sit in the gut.

4. Supplement with Probiotics 

This is an essential part of a lactose intolerance diet. The live or active cultures in yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, and supplements help to maintain a healthy digestive tract.(6) Increasing healthy bacteria in your gut may help to spur greater lactase production, or at the very least, aid in digestion.

Adding probiotic supplements and probiotic rich foods to your diet, you can change the balance in the gut, leading to greater nutrient absorption. Managing lactose intolerance with yogurt and probiotics is possible, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.(7)

However, probiotic supplements can do significantly more for overall health and wellness, than just gut health. In fact, according to a study published in Science Daily lead by Dr. Collin Hill from the University of College Cork in Ireland, probiotics may be used in the future to help control disease, without relying on antibiotics.(8)

It is important to look for a supplements that contain probiotics plus prebiotics derived from heat resistant soil-based organisms.

5. Incorporate Calcium-Rich Foods

While calcium is often considered the anti-osteoporosis mineral, it is much more vital to our health than just our bones. In fact, calcium-rich foods help heart health, control body weight, and help to reduce the risk of rectal and colon cancer.

Calcium rich foods, which everyone should incorporate in their lactose intolerance diet include raw milk, yogurt, kefir, cooked kale, raw cheese, sardines, and broccoli.

6. Add Foods Rich in Vitamin K

As mentioned above, vitamin K plays a major role in calcium absorption and bone health, but its benefits do not end there. (9) It also helps brain function, metabolism, and helps regulate hormones. This fat-soluble vitamin is stored in the liver, and proper levels can be disrupted by antibiotic use, certain prescription cholesterol medications, and by IBS and leaky gut. Many people who are lactose intolerant also are vitamin K deficient, so it is important to make sure you are getting enough in your daily food routine.

Foods rich in vitamin K to add to your lactose intolerance diet include green leafy vegetables, scallions, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cucumbers, and dried basil. In addition, the fermented organic dairy is also rich with this essential vitamin.

7. Add Bone Broth to Your Diet

Central to healing the gut, is bone broth. This simple and tasty broth helps the body overcome food intolerances, sensitivities, and even allergies, while improving joint health, boosting the immune system, and reducing cellulite.

Long simmering of grass-fed beef bones or organic free-range chicken, transforms the calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur and other minerals making them easier to absorb. In addition, the natural collagen and gelatin found in the bones helps to ease food allergies and sensitivities, including for dairy and gluten.

This is why I believe bone broth is essential for those with signs of lactose intolerance. Try my slow cooker beef bone broth recipe and chicken bone broth recipe and consume 8 ounces to 12 ounces each day.

8. Jumpstart Your Gut Health with the GAPS Diet

The GAPS Diet Plan was designed by Dr. Campbell to help reduce inflammation, heal autoimmune conditions, support healthy neurological function, and heal digestive disorders. If you have experienced the symptoms of lactose intolerance for months, or years, you can jumpstart your transition by following this eating plan.

The foods consumed include many of those mentioned above including raw fermented dairy, fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals, healthy nuts and beans, wild fish, grass fed beef, and free-range chicken.

9. Add Non-Dairy Probiotic Rich Foods to Your Diet

Probiotic-rich foods increase the overall health of the digestive system, and can help ease common digestive upset symptoms including poor nutrient absorption, strengthen the immune system, support weight loss, and increase energy due to more vitamin B12 in the body.

In addition, high-probiotic foods heal psoriasis and eczema, destroy candida, and prevent common colds and the flu.

Sauerkraut and kimchi are both made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables that are nutrient rich, and rich with enzymes that help digest foods. Fermented beverages including Kvass and Kombucha are rich with healthy bacteria, which help with liver detoxification, along with coconut kefir.

Coconut kefir is easy to make at home, with the same types of kefir grains used in dairy kefirs, and is rich with the healthy bacteria found in organic fermented dairy products.

10. Use Coconut Oil for Cooking

Coconut oil is one of the most amazing foods on the planet, and is easily converted to energy in the body. In addition, it helps to improve digestion, balances blood sugar, burns fat, balances hormone levels, and also kills bad bacteria, fungus and helps balance candida in the body.

There are SO many coconut oil uses!

Coconut oil can be used for high-heat cooking, it can replace dairy in coffee and tea, it is easy to bake with. It helps to fight inflammation throughout the body, boosts the immune system, and can event prevent bone loss. For individuals that are limiting their traditional dairy intake, coconut oil should be included in their diet.

11. Substitute Ghee for Butter

Ghee has been used for thousands of years to improve digestion function, reduce inflammation, support weight loss, strengthen bones, and so much more. But the most important factor for individuals with lactose intolerance — ghee contains no lactose!

The long simmering process and skimming of the butter removes lactose and casein, so individuals with sensitivity or allergies to dairy products should try ghee. In addition, when created from milk from grass-fed cows, levels of conjugated linoleic acid or CLA, are double or triple that of traditional grain fed cows.

CLA has been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease, and studies indicate anti-cancer properties. It is versatile and can be used for everything from high-heat cooking, to “buttering” toast. Like coconut oil, ghee is part of my healing foods diet.


Lactose Intolerance Diet Chart

What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is caused by the body’s inability to effectively digest lactose due to malabsorption or low levels of lactase produced in the digestive tract. This seems to occur for two main reasons:

1. Genetics – While it has been documented only rarely, the inability to produce lactase can sometimes be congenital.(3) Researchers believe there are genetic links to lactose intolerance causing symptoms to appear during teen years. But just because you made it through your teen years without affliction, doesn’t mean that you are immune for life.

In addition, certain ethnic groups have greater occurrences of lactose intolerance than others. Native Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and those from African descent, often experience intolerance 2 or 3 to 1 over those from European descent.

2. Aging, Diet, & Other Stresses – As we age, lactase production decreases, leading to intolerance in individuals that have otherwise never had overt signs of lactose intolerance.

In addition, lactose intolerance can also result from surgery, injury, illness, and even certain cancer treatments. Common conditions that can contribute include gastroenteritis, IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Celiac, and other conditions of the digestive tract including candida overgrowth and leaky gut. Even cases of the flu can cause intolerance, however often the symptoms will fade over time.

Not All Dairy is Equal!

A study published in the Journal of Dietetic Association indicates that consuming Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance.(4) Participants in the study perceived a reduction in the severity of gas by 54%-71%.

While kefir is a dairy product, the fermentation process breaks down the naturally occurring lactose, making it easier for the body to digest and absorb it. The result is that the majority of individuals with lactose intolerance can still enjoy some types of dairy, while reaping the health benefits.

The best dairy to consume is made from raw cow or goat’s milk that has been fermented for a minimum of 24 hours.

Raw milk myths continue to cause controversy, however many of the claims of illness are greatly exaggerated. It is estimated that raw milk is responsible for less than 50 cases of food borne illnesses each year, while nearly 10 million Americans regularly consume raw milk.

Raw dairy, including cheese, milk, kefir and yogurt, is a part of my regular diet. Raw milk benefits include immune system support, healthy skin, hair and nails, increased bone density, weight loss, muscle development, and neurological support.

The pasteurization process dramatically reduces essential nutrients including vitamins A, C, E, and B Complex, and minerals iron, zinc, and of course, calcium. The natural enzymes that help our bodies digest dairy products are destroyed while the protein and immunoglobulin’s are damaged.

The key to consuming dairy products while eating a lactose intolerance diet is to choose raw and unpasteurized products made from raw cow, goat, and sheep milk.

Final Thoughts: Watch for lactose hiding in processed foods!

Even healthy natural foods that you have eaten for years may be at the root of your lactose intolerance. When transitioning to a lactose intolerance diet, it is important to carefully read the labels of all processed foods to ensure dairy products aren’t lurking.

Dairy derivatives that hide in common foods include bread, pastries, crackers, cereals, soups, processed meats, protein bars, and candy. Even products advertised as “nondairy” could contain trace amounts of dairy products that can lead to the disrupting symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Read labels for ingredients including milk, lactose, whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, and nonfat dry milk powder.

READ NEXT: 7 Kefir Benefits and Nutrition Facts

From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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