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Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose. Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose intolerance happens when the small intestine does not make enough of the enzyme lactase. Enzymes help the body absorb foods. Not having enough lactase is called lactase deficiency.

Babies' bodies make this enzyme so they can digest milk including breast milk. Premature babies sometimes have lactose intolerance. Children who were born at full term usually do not show signs of lactose intolerance until they are at least 3 years old.

  • Bowel surgery

  • Infections in the small intestine from viruses or bacteria, which may damage the cells lining the intestine (most often in children)

  • Intestinal diseases such as celiac sprue
Symptoms often occur 30 minutes to 2 hours after you eat or drink milk products, and are often relieved by not eating or drinking milk products. Large doses of milk products may cause worse symptoms. Symptoms include abdominal bloating, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, Gas (flatulence), and nausea. Infants or children may have slow growth or weight loss.

  • Decreasing or removing milk products from the diet usually improves the symptoms.

  • Most people with low lactase levels can drink up to one-half cup of milk at one time without having symptoms.

  • Lactase enzymes can be added to regular milk or taken in the form of capsule or chewable tablet form to get relief from symptom and that too without restricting milk and milk based products from the diet.

  • The patient is required to take vitamin and mineral supplements or eat foods that have more calcium, vitamin A & D, phosphorus, etc. if on milk restriction diet.

These milk products may be easier to digest:
  • Buttermilk and cheeses (they have less lactose than milk)
  • Fermented milk products, such as yogurt
  • Goat's milk (but drink it with meals, and make sure it is supplemented with essential amino acids and vitamins if you give it to children)
  • Lactose-free milk and milk products
  • Lactase-treated cow's milk for older children and adults
  • Soy formulas for infants younger than 2 years and soy or rice milk for toddlers

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