Lactose Intolerance

Written by Timothy Okooboh

Some people experience stomach upset when they consume milk and other dairy products. This condition known as lactose intolerance is common among adults. Sadly, these people take milk and get ready to endure the stomach discomfort that will follow, while few of them have stopped taking milk entirely. Are these the best ways to manage lactose intolerance?
This article clearly explains what lactose intolerance is, the causes, symptoms, and most importantly how to manage it.

What is lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the inability to fully digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products such as cheese and yogurts. This is due to deficiency of an enzyme called lactase which digests lactose in the body. Therefore, lactose intolerant individuals usually develop symptoms of indigestion such as diarrhea, flatulence, excess gas, stomach pain, belching, nausea, and vomiting, within 30 minutes to 2 hours of taking milk or other dairy products.

The unabsorbed lactose in the intestine attracts water to itself leading to diarrhea.

∆ Microorganisms in the large intestine ferment the unabsorbed lactose leading to excess gas, bloating, flatulence, and abdominal cramp.

Both the occurrence and severity of symptoms depend on the amount of lactose taken.

Types of Lactase Deficiency

Lactase deficiency is responsible for lactose intolerance. However, there are different types of lactase deficiency.

  • Primary lactase deficiency

This is the one that most adolescents and adults have. At birth, there’s enough lactase to digest lactose, but the amount reduces with time starting from weaning.

Weaning is the period of gradually stopping a baby from feeding on its mother’s milk.

  • Secondary lactase deficiency

This is caused by the presence of a disease that affects the stomach or intestine, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, etc. Certain abdominal surgeries can also induce secondary lactase deficiency.

The fact that certain abdominal diseases can induce lactose intolerance strongly suggests that the individuals should seek medical attention to rule out any underlying condition that may have caused the problem.

  • Congenital lactase deficiency

Congenital connotes from birth. Therefore, this is a lactase deficiency that begins from birth. However, it is uncommon.

How To Manage Lactose Intolerance

I believe you now have a good understanding of what lactose intolerance is. What then are the best ways to manage this condition?

NB: Lactose intolerance does not kill.

1. Restrict lactose intake

Photo Credit: Pexels

Fortunately, dairy products are not essential to a balanced diet. So lactose intolerant individuals should restrict lactose intake. However, dairy products are rich sources of calcium, therefore other natural sources of calcium such as green cabbage and spinach should be increased.

NB: Research has shown that up to 12g (240ml of milk) of lactose can be taken by most lactose intolerant individuals without developing symptoms.

  • Lactase replacement enzyme

Supplements containing lactase enzyme can be taken to aid digestion of lactose especially for those with primary lactase deficiency.

Probiotics are live bacteria that confer health benefits when taken

  • Vitamin D and calcium supplementation.

Milk and other dairy products are rich sources of calcium. However, due to the stomach discomfort of lactose intolerance, those who reduce or stop taking dairy products may develop osteopenia; a condition in which the mineral content of bone is reduced. Therefore,  Vitamin D and Calcium supplements should be taken regularly.

  • For those with secondary lactase deficiency, the underlying abdominal disease should be identified and treated.

Putting it altogether

Lactose intolerance is a difficulty in digesting lactose and is caused by lactase deficiency. As a result, stomach upset could occur when dairy products are taken, depending on the quantity consumed. It can be managed by restricting lactose intake, and taking probiotics and lactase enzyme preparations. Because lactase deficiency can be induced by abdominal diseases, it’s not out of place to visit a gastroenterologist, just to be sure.

Do you have lactose intolerance? How well have you been able to cope and manage it? You can leave your comments and questions below. Sharing is caring!


4 thoughts on “Lactose Intolerance

  1. Eghonghon Julie Imonitie

    Thank so much Sir for this piece,
    I actually was suffering from this condition for long and it wasnt funny at all, its was quite embarrassing especially each time i experienced the flatulence symptom which always led to bloating when I refused to expel the gas after taking milk. It wasn’t funny at all, and another thing was that I loved milk so much that it was difficult to stop taking it when I finally discovered that it was milk that was causing the discomforts. It pained me that i will have to stop milk intake but after so much struggle I finally restricted my taking of milk and took Milo ( it has very little milk) instead and other alternative biscuits which do not contain milk. And since then I experienced less occurrence of lactose intolerance.

    Thanks Pharm Dr Timothy ,this post will help greatly.


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