I’ve Been Told I’m Lactose Intolerant -- Now What?
Patricia Zifferblatt | May 1, 2005

Milk is a very special food. It’s the first food consumed by humans and animals in order to sustain life after birth. Milk is the life-giving connection between mother and child. So if milk is so necessary at the start of life, why do so many people have difficulty digesting or tolerating milk and other dairy products after infancy? Especially in America, where milk is in abundance and sometimes served as a beverage along with a meal!

What is lactose?
Let’s start at the beginning. Milk is a food that’s an important source of protein, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals. In addition, milk is a complete protein. What does that mean? Simply put, it means that milk contains all of the essential amino acids and many vitamins and minerals necessary for cell growth and development in the body. Milk is good food for a baby and growing child.

However, milk also contains lactose, a simple milk sugar that can be the cause of digestive distress in many people. In fact, almost half the people in the world experience lactose intolerance!

What causes the problem?
The process of digestion requires enzymes that help to break down foods; different enzymes have different roles in the body. The enzyme necessary to digest milk as well as other dairy products is called lactase, an enzyme usually in abundance in the young body. However, as the body begins to get older, the body’s production of lactase diminishes. The lack of lactase can result in incomplete digestion of dairy products, and you feel bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and flatulence whenever milk or other dairy products are consumed. If any or all of the above symptoms occur whenever dairy products are consumed, talk with a doctor, because necessary steps can and should be taken to insure adequate nutritional intake for good health--with or without the consumption of dairy products.

Which dairy products can produce the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Yogurt
  • Buttermilk
So much of what we eat every day contains some form of milk or other dairy product--what can I do to digest it better?
  • With some people a small amount of dairy can be eaten without severe distress, but drinking a glass of milk can put a person over the edge. Become aware of which foods cause you digestive distress.

  • Dairy substitutes that don’t cause digestive distress are available throughout the grocery store, many made from soy and rice. Look for these foods, and read the labels on all food products before you purchase them.

  • For many people, yogurt may not cause digestive problems, but ice cream does. Choose your frozen desserts wisely and carefully.

  • Look for lactose-free dairy products in the dairy section of the grocery store.

  • Lactase tablets as well as other digestive enzyme products are available at the drug store. Take these tablets as directed on the package whenever dairy products are consumed.

  • Supplement your diet with high quality calcium, magnesium, vitamin D supplements, and other protein-rich products for optimum utilization of nutrients.
Throughout the world, people have survived for centuries without drinking milk as a beverage, and they don’t eat large amounts of other types of dairy products. Dairy is used as an ingredient in a recipe rather than a major part of the menu. So if you find you’re lactose intolerant, take a look at the diets of other people throughout the world and consider what substitutions you can make to insure good nutritional health--even if you’re lactose intolerant.
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