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Lactose intolerance is a well-known health complication that has to do with the inability to digest lactose present in dairy foods like milk, cheese, etc. It is a digestive disorder.

What Is Lactose?

Lactose is the sugar present in milk. When consumed, it requires an enzyme in the body produced in the small intestine, called Lactase. It is a disaccharide, which means it has two sugars, glucose, and galactose. They are broken down to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal lining.

We can, therefore, say that lactose intolerance in a body is caused when the body is not producing lactase. Lactase is an essential enzyme secreted in the small intestine, which helps to digest lactose.


  • The primary cause of lactose intolerance is the reduction in the production of lactase over a period of time. As a result, proper absorption of lactose becomes very difficult. It is the most common cause of lactose intolerance.
  • The secondary cause lactose intolerance is due to illnesses and diseases like celiac, inflammation of the small intestine, and in some cases surgery. Other diseases associated with secondary lactose intolerance are bacterial overgrowth and Crohn’s disease.
  • Developmental lactose intolerance has to do with family history. It is passed from generation to generation, making it possible for a child to be born with lactose intolerance. It is a pattern called autosomal recessive.


These are the factors that can make an adult or a child more prone to lactose intolerance. Examples are;

  • Premature Birth: A baby born prematurely is likely to develop lactose intolerance. The small intestine will need time before it can start developing the cells that produce lactase.

  • Some Cancer Treatments: An intestinal complication from chemotherapy might increase the chances of having lactose intolerance.

  • The Small Intestine Disease: Diseases of the small intestine, Crohn’s and celiac disease can cause lactose intolerance.

  • Age: As one grows, there is a very big possibility of having lactose intolerance. It mostly occurs in adulthood.

  • Lactose intolerance is common in people of Asian, African, Hispanic, and American Indian descent.


The following symptoms start to show between 45 minutes and 2 hours of digesting foods or drinks that have lactose.

  • Vomiting.

  • Nausea.

  • Constipation.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Pains in the lower belly.

  • Abdominal pains.

  • Flatulence.

  • Increased gas.

  • Mouth ulcers.

  • Eczema.

  • Joint and muscle pains.

  • Gas.

  • Headache.

  • Restlessness.

  • Fatigue.


A child is more at risk if born prematurely because it takes some time before the lactase producing cells are developed. Though it goes away after some time. A family history of lactose intolerance increases the risk of a child having it.

Sometimes, a child may be lactose intolerant and will still be able to consume a little amount of lactose, without showing any symptoms. While it is quite safe, there should still be a test to ascertain the level at which lactose can be comfortably consumed.

However, once a child begins to show symptoms, there will be an urgent need to visit a dietician. This is because there are some essential nutrients that a child needs to grow and develop, and should not be missing.


Watch your baby after feeding, to know if the feeding system is fine or needs to be changed. A baby that cries a few minutes after every meal or medication should be taken for a medical examination to know the problem.

Babies with lactose intolerance should be fed with lactose-free formula milk purchased from a registered pharmacy or supermarket.

NOTE: Soya formula milk contains hormones that may affect a baby’s future, sexual and physical development. Therefore, it should not be given to a child under six months.

Lactose intolerance in children is temporary, it will improve after some time (breastfeeding helps a baby recover faster, because of the nutritional values in breast milk). It is then required to slowly and gradually add back milk and dairy products into their diet.


Signs and symptoms to show in children after the ages of 2 and 5. The symptoms are listed below,

  • Loose stool.

  • Constipation.

  • Gas.

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Vomiting.

  • Restlessness.


  • Hydrogen Breath Test: A liquid with a high level of lactose will be given to the patient to drink. After, a hydrogen test is carried out by measuring the amount of oxygen present in the breath at a regular interval. Too much hydrogen confirms that the patient has not been digesting lactose properly.

  • Lactose Intolerance Test: Drinking a liquid with a high level of lactose is also required. After exactly two hours of drinking the liquid, a blood test will be done to measure the amount of glucose present in the bloodstream. A low glucose level indicates that the body is not digesting and properly absorbing lactose.

  • Stool Sample Test (for children): The presence of a high level of acetate and fatty acids in the stool is a sign of lactose intolerance.

  • Intestinal Biopsy: It is done by using an endoscope to extract some samples of the lining of the small intestine. The sample will be tested to detect the presence of lactase and its activities.

  • Genetic Test: This is done by testing the blood or saliva sample.


According to medical research, the best treatment for lactose intolerance is to stay off foods that contain lactose (lactose-free diet). There is no cure, but it can be managed. Here are some tips,

  • Reduce the number of dairy foods or milk consumed.

  • Consume more of lactose-free foods and drinks.

  • Add a powdered lactase enzyme to milk to help break down lactose.

  • Using lactase enzyme substitutes: Lactate substitutes help replace the lactate the small intestine is not or cannot produce. They come in liquid drops, capsules, or tablets. These will help break down the lactose in any diet easily.

  • Medications that can help the small intestine produced the required enzyme (lactase).

  • Eat dairy products with a lower level of lactose, for example, cheese and yogurt.

  • Eat only lactose-free and lactose-reduced milk, and milk products.

  • Cow’s milk.

  • Goat’s milk.

  • Butter.

  • Yogurt.

  • Cheese (ricotta and cottage).

  • Ice cream.

  • Biscuits.

  • Cookies.

  • Chocolate.

  • Sausages.

  • Desserts.

  • Bread.

  • Condensed milk.

  • Evaporated milk.

  • Pancakes.

  • Scrambled egg.

  • Cakes.

  • Salad cream.

However, when buying your edibles, do ensure to check the ingredients written on the label. To avoid adding milk and dairy products mistakenly to your meal, avoid ingredients like,

  • Milk solids.

  • Whey protein.

  • Buttermilk.

  • Cheese.

  • Milk powder.

  • Malted milk.

  • Sour cream.

Dairy foods are very high in calcium. They help to build healthy bones, muscles, help the blood clot, ensures that the nerve works well, and maintains a healthy weight. Also, they help prevents gum diseases.

They are the type of foods rich in vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, magnesium, protein, and zinc. Not all dairy foods should be completely avoided because of lactose intolerance. All that is needed is to eat less of dairy foods and more of foods and fruits high in calcium, such as;

  • Spinach.

  • Broccoli.

  • Turnip greens.

  • Salmon.

  • Cereals.

  • Juices.

  • Canned sardines.

  • Oranges.

  • Almonds.

  • Dried beans.

  • Kale.

  • Seaweed.

  • Plant milk.

  • Rutabaga.

  • Okra.

Vitamin D

  • Fatty fish.

  • Eggs.

  • Fish liver oils.

  • Exposure to natural sunray.

Vitamin A

  • Carrot.

  • Sweet potatoes.

  • Broccoli.

  • Spinach.

  • Pumpkin.

  • Cod liver oil.

  • Apricot.

  • Mango.

  • Pawpaw.

Other options to dairy milk are, coconut, almond flax, or soy milk, hazelnut milk, rice milk, oat milk, carob bars, etc.


Most people think milk allergy and lactose intolerance are the same. Perhaps, they do occur together most times and share similar signs and symptoms, but they are not related. Milk allergy happens or occurs when the immune system overreacts to the consumption of milk because it contains a protein that irritates the immune system.

It causes allergic reactions like skin rashes, swelling, dizziness, loss of consciousness, difficulty in breathing, hives, itching, etc. children under the age of three are prone to have a milk allergy. It is life-threatening (Anaphylaxis).

On the other hand, lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder due to the absence of lactase. An enzyme that helps break down the sugar in milk and dairy products. Although it is not life-threatening, it should be treated or managed to avoid the discomfort that comes with it.

Similar symptoms of lactose intolerance and milk allergy include,

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Diarrhea.


There is no permanent cure for lactose intolerance. Once you have been diagnosed, proper management measures should be taken to reduce signs and symptoms. However, some people with lactose intolerance can still handle some amount of lactose, but others have to completely avoid them. Consult a registered dietician to help with the diet plan.

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