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Lactose intolerance: symptoms, causes and solutions

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the predominant sugar in milk. This inability is caused when cells in the wall of the small intestine do not produce enough of the enzyme lactase, which is responsible for breaking down lactose into simpler forms that can be absorbed.

Lactose intolerance: symptoms, causes and solutions Lactose intolerance: symptoms, causes and solutions


When there is not enough lactase to digest the amount of lactose consumed, it travels to the colon instead of being processed and absorbed. In the colon, bacteria interact with digested lactose, which causes the presence of signs and symptoms and is when we talk about intolerance.


Symptoms usually start between 30 minutes and 2 hours after consuming dairy products. The most common are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and sometimes vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • Or flatulence, among others.

The intensity varies depending on the amount of lactose that the person tolerates.

  • In most cases, intolerance occurs with age , since from the age of two the production of the enzyme begins to decrease. Although there are people who do not develop any symptoms until much later.
    This progressive decrease in lactase is the most common cause and is known as primary intolerance : the symptoms only decrease with the reduction or elimination of the consumption of dairy products and derivatives.
  • There are also cases of secondary intolerance that occurs when the small intestine decreases the production of lactase after an illness, injury or surgery that affects this organ. In this case, treatment of the pre-existing disorder could restore lactase levels and improve signs and symptoms.
  • Infrequently we have the case of congenital lactose intolerance or that intolerance is the cause of a premature birth.

WHAT should be done in case of suffering this INTOLERANCE?

  • Girls and boys with lactase deficiency cannot eat foods that contain lactose. For them there are, for example, milk without this substance.
  • In contrast, adults may not need to avoid it entirely, since they differ in the amount and kind of food they tolerate. For example, some may have symptoms of intolerance after drinking a small glass of milk, while others may not be affected unless they drink two; there are those who can eat some type of cheese but not other lactic derivatives; while yogurt has generally been shown to be better tolerated than other foods.
  • For those who react with small amounts or find it difficult to maintain a diet that completely avoids dairy products, there are preparations in the pharmacy that contain the lactase enzyme , which, added to milk, allow it to be drunk, since after leaving it in the water for a few hours Rest break down lactose to make it digestible.
  • When establishing the lactose-free diet and, therefore, excluding milk, which is rich in calcium, the inclusion of other foods rich in this substance such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, some type of fish such as the sardines?
    For the absorption of this calcium , vitamin D is necessary, which is basically obtained from prudent exposure to sunlight or we can obtain it by consuming products rich in vitamin D: eggs, liver, salmon and tuna. In some cases, and always following the advice of a professional , a food supplement may be necessary to guarantee the intake of calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients.
  • On the other hand, although milk and its derivatives are the only source of lactose, it is added to different prepared foods and, therefore, people who tolerate very little quantity should keep in mind that sauces, cookies, processed cereals... can also contain it.
    That is why it is important to correctly read the label of manufactured products.

It must be taken into account that lactose can also be found in some drugs as an excipient and that, even if it is not in large quantities, it is advisable to consult the pharmacist, especially in case of severe intolerance.

Currently on the market there is a wide variety of brands that offer lactose-free products. The Association of Lactose Intolerants (ADILAC) offers interested companies a seal to identify them.


  • Lactose intolerance is controlled by avoiding foods that contain it .
  • Medicines may also contain lactose ; check with your pharmacist.

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