Lactose Intolerance- fact or fiction?

Lactose Intolerance- fact or fiction?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Lactose and lactose intolerance- an overview

Lactose is a sugar that occurs naturally in milk and other dairy products. It’s digested by an enzyme in your gut called lactase. If you haven’t got enough of this enzyme, you can’t digest lactose properly, and you get lactose intolerance – with symptoms such as bloating, burping, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and irritation of the skin around the anus. In babies, it can cause poor weight gain. It’s important to realise that lactose intolerance is NOT an allergy. It’s simply the inability to digest lactose.

Learn more about our online doctor services

Types of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance can be inherited from your parents. Some people are born without any lactase enzyme whatsoever. This is called congenital lactase deficiency. This tends to cause symptoms from birth, as both breast milk and formula contain lactose.

Primary lactase deficiency is a little less severe- in this condition, there is some lactase, but levels are low-it can become symptomatic at any age, though it’s rare before the age of 6.

It’s also possible to develop lactose intolerance if your gut becomes temporarily inflamed for some reason- for example, after a bout of gastroenteritis. This type of lactose intolerance tends to settle whenever the inflammation gets better.

Developmental lactase deficiency may occur in premature babies because their gut has not yet matured. It settles as they get older.

Some people DO have an allergy to cow’s milk protein. This is an entirely different condition to lactose intolerance, though there are similar symptoms. Some babies have this problem, but it tends to get better as they get older- they often grow out of it entirely.

Diagnosis of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance can be diagnosed based on the history- particularly if lactose is then withdrawn from the diet and symptoms settle. It’s also possible to perform a test on a stool (poo) sample, or a breath test, to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment of lactose intolerance

The treatment for lactose intolerance is to reduce the amount of lactose in your diet, or eliminate it entirely if necessary. Some people who are lactose intolerant will be able to tolerate small amounts of lactose- though it may take a while to figure out personal limitations. Some dairy products are less problematic- such as hard cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan and Emmenthal, which are naturally lower in lactose. Also, dairy products with thicker consistency, such as natural yoghurt, may be better tolerated than milk, as they are digested more slowly. It’s wise to check food labels for hidden lactose. In the case of temporary lactose intolerance after an episode of gastro, often no changes are recommended, as the symptoms will quickly settle anyway. And some people report benefit from taking lactase (enzyme) tablets when they are eating lactose.

lactose intolerance

If you have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant, and are therefore avoiding dairy products, it’s important to source adequate amounts of calcium from other foods to protect bone health. If you have been told you might have lactose intolerance but you are not feeling 100% sure of the diagnosis, it’s best to speak to a doctor and consider proper testing, as avoiding dairy products can be tricky, and may lead to low calcium intake and thinning of the bones.


Learn more about our online doctor services

Anaphylaxis- why does it happen & how is it treated?

By | April 17th, 2018|Categories: Allergies & Asthma|

Anaphylaxis- what causes it & how is it treated? What is anaphylaxis? Anaphylaxis is a severe life-threatening allergy. Normally, the immune system defends the body against threats such as bacteria and viruses. An [...]

Comments Off on Anaphylaxis- why does it happen & how is it treated?

Bedwetting- what causes it and what’s the treatment?

By | April 14th, 2018|Categories: Children & Babies, Kidney & Bladder Health|

Bedwetting- what causes nocturnal enuresis & how is it treated? What is enuresis? Enuresis (or nocturnal enuresis) is more commonly known as bedwetting.  It’s a problem for lots of children, and can have [...]

Comments Off on Bedwetting- what causes it and what’s the treatment?

Sweating too much- what causes it and when is it serious?

By | April 9th, 2018|Categories: Skin & hair conditions, Our Blog, Embarrassing health problems|

Sweating too much- what causes it and when is it serious? Sweating is the body’s natural way of cooling down- sweat evaporates from the skin and allows body temperature to drop. Short term [...]

Comments Off on Sweating too much- what causes it and when is it serious?

Itchy bottom and unsettled sleep?- it could be threadworms

By | April 2nd, 2018|Categories: Common infections, Children & Babies|

Threadworms- symptoms & treatment What are thread worms? Threadworms (also known as pinworms) are small white worms that infect the human intestine. Infestation with threadworms is a common problem, particularly in younger children, [...]

Comments Off on Itchy bottom and unsettled sleep?- it could be threadworms
2018-04-19T20:05:17+00:00 By |Digestion & bowel health|

About the Author:

Aifric Boylan
Originally from Ireland, Dr Boylan is an experienced GP based in Melbourne. She is also committed to innovation in the area of online medicine and health technology. Aifric is a keen distance runner, and plays the violin, but not at the same time…

9.3 out of 10
reviewed by Trustpilot