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All About Lactose Intolerance

Bloating, gas, tummy issues – these things can occur from time to time. But for those with lactose intolerance, they can become a constant source of discomfort. Think you may be lactose intolerant? Discover the cause of this common disorder and learn how to manage it so you can live your best life.

What is Lactose Intolerance?

In a nutshell, lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, which is a sugar naturally found in most dairy products. The small intestine produces an enzyme called ‘lactase’ which is responsible for breaking down lactose during digestion. When you have a lactase deficiency, you may become lactose intolerant.

Though the label ‘lactose intolerant’ sounds serious, this is a very common condition. In fact, the Mayo Clinic estimates that there are around 3 million cases of lactose intolerance every year – just in the United States! So, if you’re struggling with lactose intolerance, know that you’re not alone. Also know that there are many ways to manage it successfully to find relief.

Signs to Look For

Symptoms can vary in both type and severity from person to person, but the timing of the symptoms is fairly predictable across the board – symptoms arrive soon after eating or drinking dairy products that contain lactose, like milk, cheese or ice cream. The most common symptoms are bloating, gas, diarrhea, belly pain, and nausea. Abdominal cramping can occur as well.

Though lactose intolerance is mostly a battle over discomfort, in some cases it can actually disrupt the body’s ability to absorb important nutrients, like calcium and vitamin D. While lactose intolerance can be self-diagnosed by paying attention to what you eat and when you experience symptoms, talking to a doctor can help confirm that there isn’t something else going on. Remember, other things – like stress and poor sleep – can also cause digestive issues, so it’s important to pinpoint the problem.

How to Manage Lactose Intolerance

Diet modifications are the most common way of managing lactose intolerance. If you’re diagnosed as lactose intolerant, it’s recommended to start avoiding dairy products that contain lactose as a first step.

But there is some good news! You probably won’t have to give up dairy permanently – which can be a big relief for the dessert aficionados and charcuterie board enthusiasts. Most people with lactose intolerance find adequate symptom relief by simply limiting the amount of lactose that they consume each week, not eliminating it entirely from their diet.

Another option is to consider lactose-free products. With lactose intolerance being such a widespread issue, it’s no surprise that some clever companies have found a way to revise recipes in order to deliver comparable flavor without the lactose. Cheese, butter, milk – and even whipped cream – can be found in lactose-free formulas at most grocery stores. Just be sure to read the labels to know what you’re getting!

And finally, if modifying your diet just isn’t doing it for you, it may be time to consider a lactase supplement. Available in tablet formulas and liquid drops, lactase supplements are designed to reintroduce the lactase enzyme into your system to help with proper digestion.

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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