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A Brief Guide in Lactose Intolerance

By Vicki Mozo


If you are unable to digest lactose, you may be suffering from lactose intolerance, which pertains to your inability to digest lactose.


What is lactose?

Lactose is a form of sugar you largely get from consuming milk and other milk products. That's why lactose is also called milk sugar.


What is causing lactose intolerance?

If you are wondering why others can take lactose products as much as they want while you can't that's because you may lack the enzyme responsible for speeding up lactose digestion. This enzyme is lactase. It hastens the disintegration of lactose into simpler, constituent parts (i.e. glucose and galactose molecules). Under normal conditions, the lining of the small intestine releases lactase following the consumption of lactose-containing food. If there is no enough lactase produced, it leads to lactose intolerance.

There are three major types of lactose intolerance based on lactase production. The first and most common type is called primary lactase deficiency.1 It is characterized by the lack of enough lactase to do the ''job'' effectively. Some infants may temporarily become lactose intolerant in the first few weeks until such time they can produce enough lactase. Still, more adults are affected with this type of lactose intolerance than children.

The second type is called secondary lactase deficiency. It occurs when lactase formerly produced in sufficient amounts turned insufficient due to a gastrointestinal infection or disease that injures the lining of the small intestine.2 Infants are more susceptible to it than adults.

The third type is called congenital lactase deficiency. By congenital, it means the person is born with this type of disorder. The common problem is associated with a genetic disorder that hinders production of lactase. However, this type of lactose intolerance is very rare.


Signs of lactose intolerance

An individual would typically feel uncomfortable about half an hour to two hours following consumption of food containing lactose.3 The common symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, queasiness, flatulence (passing gas), and abdominal bloating.4 The severity of the symptoms though may depend on the amount of lactose taken in and the extent of his intolerance toward lactose.


Treatment and prevention

How do you treat lactose intolerance? Your guess is as good as mine. There is no cure for lactose intolerance as of this time. But there are ways to manage and prevent it. Infants who are formula fed will have to avert from milk containing lactose. A pediatrician may recommend a lactose-free formula, which provides the same nutrients minus the lactose.

For adults, don’t take a huge portion of foods containing lactose. But if you're one of those lactose intolerant persons who still manage to produce lactase in small amounts, then consume milk and dairy products little by little. Soon, your body may adapt to a diet containing lactose. But if you are one of the few people who cannot tolerate lactose at all then avoid it completely. That means you have to stay away from bread, waffles, doughnuts, pancakes, breakfast cereals, candies, ice cream, cheese, butter, and other products that include milk as an ingredient or food additive. Otherwise, you may still eat these foods provided that the milk used is lactose-free.

Since milk and dairy products are essential source of calcium you may need to take calcium supplements. There's also lactase supplement marketed as tablets. But its efficacy remains to be improved through research.



1Heyman, M.B. "Lactose intolerance in infants, children, and adolescents." Pediatrics 118.3 (2006): 1279–86.

2National Institutes of Health. "Lactose Intolerance." The National Digestive Diseases Information, June 2009. National Institutes of Health.

3Hirsch, L. " Lactose Intolerance." TeensHealth, September 2006. The Nemours Foundation.

4Marks, J.W. "Lactose Intolerance." MedicineNet, 2009.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide information and individual opinion of the author (and not the site). Any information contained in this article should not be used to replace professional or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


To cite (APA-style):

Mozo, V. (2011, Jul 20). A Brief Guide in Lactose Intolerance. Biology-Online.org. Retrieved from http://www.biology-online.org

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