Signs You’re Lactose Intolerant, According To Doctors – Eat This, Not That


Thanks to TV commercials, you’ve probably heard of lactose intolerance, one of those food sensitivities that can make mealtimes uncomfortable. But what is it exactly? Is it an allergy? Are some people more likely to get it than others? These are the signs you have lactose intolerance and what you can do about them, according to doctors. Read on to learn more and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure signs you’ve already had COVID.


Lactose intolerance occurs when the body is unable to digest the sugar (or lactose) in milk. People with lactose intolerance may experience unpleasant symptoms after consuming dairy products, including milk, cheese or ice cream.


“Lactose intolerance can have a very wide and non-specific range of symptoms, which makes it difficult to distinguish from other stomach problems,” explains Andrew Boxer, MD, a gastroenterologist at Jersey City Medical Center. “Patients often experience bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea after eating lactose-rich foods, such as milk, ice cream, and yogurt.”

Digestive symptoms, which are the most common, can appear 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating, says Carrie Lam, MD, FAAMFM, ABAARM, a California-based family physician. “If you have an ongoing intolerance, you may also experience migraines and headaches,” she adds. “This happens because of undigested food particles that linger in your body long after you last consumed dairy. This problem can be even worse if you have a leaky gut.”

Lactose intolerance can appear at any age, but it’s more common in older people, Lam says. “It is not an allergy and does not cause the immune system to overreact. As a result, intolerance symptoms are usually much less severe than allergy symptoms. However, it may not feel that way at this moment.”

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woman consulting a female doctor

If you suspect lactose intolerance, consult your doctor. It can be diagnosed with simple tests. “Most labs offer lactose intolerance testing,” says Boxer. “This is usually measured either by measuring hydrogen in the breath or blood glucose levels.”

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Woman taking supplements.

“Lactose intolerance is usually caused by an insufficient amount of lactase, a digestive enzyme, produced in the small intestine,” says Boxer. “Patients can try taking an over-the-counter medicine containing lactase before eating dairy products to see if their symptoms improve.”

These products are sold under brand names like Lactaid, and they come in pill and liquid form. You can take the tablets before having a meal or snack containing lactose, or add drops to a container of milk.

You can also try:

  • Eat small amounts of dairy products
  • Consume dairy products only with meals
  • An elimination diet – removing dairy products that you find problematic – to identify the sources of your lactose intolerance
  • Stick to dairy products that cause you less discomfort

But it’s always a good idea to see your doctor if something is wrong. “I always encourage someone to seek the advice of a medical professional if their symptoms seem excessive or unusual, or if something is not right for them,” says Boxer.

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starbucks oat milk drinks

Some nutrition experts recommend avoiding animal milk altogether. “Lactose intolerance is more common than you think,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of the book Recipe for Survival. “Up to two-thirds of adults in the world are lactose intolerant. As we age, we no longer need animal milk. We are one of the only, if not the only, species that continues to drink milk after withdrawal, and we lose the need for the enzyme lactase.”

Hunnes recommends replacing animal milk with any plant-based, non-dairy options available (like almond, soy, or oat milks). These milks are fortified with calcium and vitamins D and B12, providing a nutritional profile similar to cow’s milk (as well as environmental benefits, as fewer resources and emissions are involved in their production).


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