Lactose intolerance can cause moderate to severe digestive and gut issues. It is important, first, before changing your diet, to speak with a doctor to determine whether you have lactose intolerance or an actual dairy allergy. The symptoms may be similar, but a dairy allergy can be much more serious. However, if you think you have lactose intolerance, you may experience bloating, excess gas and other digestive problems. Symptoms of a dairy allergy are wheezing, vomiting, cramps, and skin conditions. Most with lactose intolerance experience some levels of diarrhea and nausea.

The Tolerance Test

One of the easiest ways to test for intolerance is to take a simple test. On an empty stomach, drink two full glasses of skim milk. If, within two to four hours, you begin to experience lactose intolerance symptoms (bloating, nausea, diarrhea, or otherwise upset stomach), you may have an intolerance. This is an easy way to determine a possible intolerance, but for actual confirmation, you will need to visit your local physician or dietician. In addition, if you involve a professional in the process, you will get more expert advice about diet changes and lifestyle.  


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If you and your doctor determine that your lactose intolerance is not severe, you may be able to consume some dairy products in moderation. Products like yogurt, sour cream, and cheese are the easiest to digest for those with a mild intolerance, as these have smaller amounts of lactose than other dairy products. Experiment with different habits of consumption, and determine how much dairy your body can comfortably tolerate. Some studies, however, have concluded that even those with intolerance can absorb up to eight ounces of milk per day, particularly if it is coupled with a full meal. Moderation is the key here, but determining the right balance will be your challenge.


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Supplementing Your Diet

One trick to managing a lactose intolerance is by introducing certain enzymes to control and amplify the production of lactose-digesting bacteria in your gut. Some studies have shown that probiotics -- found in products like kimchi and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar -- can help replenish this bacteria in your system. You can also take supplements that contain these kinds of enzymes. Again, consultations with a dietician or a physician are important here so that you can accurately determine where you are deficient.


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Lactose-Free Foods and Drinks

If you determine that you cannot tolerate any lactose, there are alternative products that mimic the experience of dairy products. One of the most popular is the soy line of foods. Soy can be used to produce yogurt, cheese, and milk. There are also a wide variety of flavors and iterations of milk and cheese made with soya, and therefore your habits and preferences may not need to shift too much. There are also milks made with almonds, rice, coconuts, and potatoes. Carob can also be a substitute for chocolate.


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Enhancing Your Calcium

Removing dairy from your diet means that you may become calcium-deficient. It is important to combat this head-on and prepare to replace this lost vitamin in your diet. Calcium is important for strong bones and teeth and helps with muscle contraction, including your heartbeat. It is therefore important to have an ample supply in your system. Leafy greens, like kale, cabbage, and broccoli, have ample supplies of calcium. Fish with bones you can eat -- like sardines and anchovies -- are also a good source of calcium. You can take calcium supplements as well, but the best sources come from natural products.


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Breastfeeding Mothers

Breastfeeding mothers should have no concern. Simply having a lactose intolerance and breastfeeding a baby does not mean that this will pass to the child. Lactose intolerance is something that a body will develop on its own -- if at all -- and there is no risk of mother-to-child transmission of this particular intolerance. Be careful, however, with pre- and post-natal vitamins, as these can sometimes contain lactose, which might trigger your intolerance symptoms.

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Celiac Patients and Lactose

Those who also suffer from a gluten intolerance need to be vigilant and carefully read products ingredients. A large component in gluten-free foods is whey, which is a dairy product. A good rule of thumb, when purchasing foods to adhere to a dairy-free diet, is to choose products labeled as vegan. Vegans do not eat dairy or animal products, and therefore are safe for those with lactose intolerance.

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Finding Support

While the stigma that those with a lactose intolerance experience is rather mild -- when compared to other disorders and diseases -- it is still a challenge that confronts one of our most basic activities: eating. Therefore, it is useful to find support and networks of comfort. Family and friend networks are good, but you may find support on social networks or elsewhere, where you find other members of your community with the same condition.


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Try Yogurts

The fermentation process that accompanies the production of yogurt will sometimes leave the healthy, lactose-digesting bacteria in your body. Therefore, it is worthwhile to experiment with different types of yogurt and determine the severity of symptoms with each, if you are trying to balance a moderate dairy intake each day. Find local producers who offer unpasteurized versions of yogurt as opposed to commercially produced yogurts, which often have enzyme-killing preservatives.


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Make Your Own Kefir

Kefir is a yogurt beverage that dates back thousands of years. Best yet, you can make it yourself by fermenting your own milk. This process will again release the healthy, lactose-digesting enzymes into your body. The process for producing kefir is simple and easy to find. Again, experiment consuming this drink to see where on the severity level your symptoms emerge. It's possible that combining a dairy product with the probiotics found in these yogurts and beverages can counteract one another while continuing to add more lactose-digesting bacteria into your system.


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