Lactose Intolerance : What it is, Risk Factors, And Symptoms ?


Those who are lactose intolerant are unable to effectively digest lactose, the sugar in milk. They experience bloating, gas, and diarrhea after ingesting dairy products. Although lactose malabsorption, another name for the condition, is frequently not hazardous, some people may have unpleasant symptoms.

Lack of lactase, an enzyme produced in the small intestine, is a common cause of lactose intolerance. Even if you have low lactase levels, you can still digest milk products. You become lactose intolerant and feel symptoms after ingesting dairy products if your levels are too low.

Most lactose-intolerant people are able to manage their condition without completely giving up dairy products.


When your small intestine does not generate enough lactase, an enzyme needed to break down milk sugar, you develop lactose intolerance (lactose).

Usually, lactase breaks down milk sugar into glucose and galactose, two simple sugars that are taken into circulation via the gut mucosa.

With the absence of the enzyme lactase, lactose from your meal enters your colon as opposed to being metabolized and absorbed. The signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance are brought on by an interaction between regular bacteria and undigested lactose in the gut.

Lactose intolerance comes in three different varieties. The lactase deficit underlying each kind is brought on by various sources.

The most typical kind of primary lactose intolerance is present from birth in all affected individuals. Lactase is required by infants, who obtain all of their nutrients from milk.

While people often generate less lactase when eating other foods, it usually still produces enough to process the quantity of dairy in a typical adult diet. Primary lactose intolerance is characterized by a significant decline in lactase synthesis by maturity, which makes milk products challenging to digest.

This type of lactose intolerance happens when your small intestine reduces lactase synthesis as a result of an infection, an accident, or small intestine surgery. Conditions include intestinal infection, celiac disease, bacterial overgrowth, and Crohn's disease are linked to secondary lactose intolerance.

Though it may take some time, treating the underlying disease may help to reduce signs and symptoms and restore lactase levels.

While uncommon, it is possible for infants to be born with lactose intolerance as a result of a lack of milk. As this condition is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner from one generation to the next, both the mother and the father must pass on the same gene mutation for a kid to be afflicted. Due to low levels of lactase, premature newborns might potentially develop lactose intolerance.

How to check if you have Lactose Intolerance?

If you have lactose intolerance symptoms regularly after consuming dairy products, especially if you are concerned about receiving adequate calcium, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Risk Factors

You or your child may be more susceptible to lactose intolerance due to the following factors:

Advancing years. Adulthood is when lactose intolerance often manifests. The disease is uncommon in newborns and young children.

Ethnicity. The majority of persons with lactose intolerance are of African, Asian, Hispanic, and American Indian origin.

Birth before term. Since lactase-producing cells in the small intestine do not grow until late in the third trimester, preterm infants may have lower amounts of lactase.

Ailments of the small intestine. Lactose intolerance can be brought on by bacterial overgrowth, celiac disease, and Crohn's disease, among other small intestinal conditions.

Certain cancer therapies. Your chance of developing lactose intolerance rises if you have received radiation therapy for stomach cancer or intestinal side effects from chemotherapy.


The signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance frequently appear between 30 minutes and two hours after ingesting or imbibing drinks that contain lactose. Typical warning signs and symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and occasionally vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Bloating
  • Gas


Treating the underlying illness in persons whose lactose intolerance is brought on by it may, though it may take months, restore the body's capacity to digest lactose. You may be able to prevent the discomfort of lactose intolerance for other reasons by eating a low-lactose diet.

To cut back on the lactose in your diet:

  • Restrict your intake of milk and other dairy products.
  • Little portions of dairy products should be included in your daily meals.
  • Lactose-free milk and ice cream should be consumed.
  • To dissolve the lactose in milk, mix in a liquid or powder lactase enzyme.


You might be able to anticipate your body's reaction to lactose-containing items and determine the amount of food or liquid you can consume without feeling ill with some trial and error. Very few people have such severe lactose intolerance that they must avoid all dairy products and watch out for lactose-containing non-dairy meals and drugs.

Even if you consume less dairy, you can still receive adequate calcium. Several other meals, including:

  • Leafy green veggies and broccoli
  • Items with added calcium, such as cereals and juices
  • Canned sardines or salmon
  • Replacements for milk, including soy milk and rice milk
  • Oranges
  • Dried beans, Brazil nuts, and almonds

Also, ensure that you get adequate vitamin D, which is normally provided in enhanced milk. Vitamin D is also included in yogurt, eggs, liver, and other foods. Sunlight exposure also causes your body to create vitamin D.

A lot of people still do not receive enough vitamin D even when dairy foods are not restricted. To be sure, discuss vitamin D and calcium supplementation with your doctor.

Most lactose-intolerant persons may consume certain milk products without experiencing any symptoms. You may tolerate low-fat milk products like skim milk better than items made from full milk. Adding dairy products to your diet gradually may also help you build up your tolerance for them.

The following are some dietary changes you can make to lessen lactose intolerance symptoms:

Selecting lower dairy portions. Take small milk portions, up to 4 ounces (118). each milliliter) separately. The likelihood of gastrointestinal issues increases with serving size.

Save the milk for meals. This slows down digestion and may minimize lactose intolerance symptoms.

Experimentation with a range of dairy goods. The quantity of lactose in dairy products varies. For instance, while having trace levels of lactose, hard cheeses like Swiss or cheddar often have no adverse effects.

The greatest lactose is found in milk and ice cream, however, ice cream's high-fat content may allow you to consume it without experiencing any side effects. As the bacteria employed in the culturing process naturally create the enzyme that breaks down lactose, you may be able to tolerate cultured milk products like yogurt.

They could also aid lactose digestion in your body. If other treatments do not work, probiotics are usually regarded as safe and can be worth a go.

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Page last reviewed: Mar 16, 2023

Next review due: Mar 16, 2025

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