Lactose intolerance, as we all know, is a condition in which the body isn’t able to break down lactose properly. The most common symptoms of lactose intolerance are digestive issues such as diarrhea, bloating, gas, etc.
Most people understand lactose intolerance as an inability to digest milk or dairy products, which is true because lactose is mainly found in dairy products. So, what happens if you ignore lactose intolerance and keep consuming dairy? We’ll find out the answer in this blog.
Lactose generally is a disaccharide sugar called ‘milk sugar’ that consists of glucose and galactose. Lactose intolerance occurs when our large intestine can’t produce enough lactase, which is the enzyme required to break down lactose, or “milk sugar.” Due to the lack of this lactase enzyme, the process of absorption and utilization of lactose by the body is hampered, which in turn causes unpleasant symptoms.
Sometimes the symptoms are so mild that the person with intolerance might not even realize the problem. In that case, this condition might go unnoticed for quite a long time. On the contrary, some people might experience some troublesome GI symptoms after consuming dairy but still decide to ignore them. So, what happens in such cases? Let’s find out together!
What Happens When Lactose Intolerance Left Untreated
Firstly, it’s important to understand that lactose intolerance isn’t the same as a dairy or milk allergy. Food allergies cause symptoms such as itching, rash, or wheezing.
Food allergies are more severe than food intolerances as they involve the immune system responding inappropriately to certain foods. In the case of food allergies, the patient isn’t even able to take a single bite of the allergenic food. This is because the food triggers an instant reaction.
On the contrary, people with food intolerances such as lactose intolerance are still able to consume some amount of the intolerant foods without experiencing any severe reaction.
If you may ask, what can lactose intolerant not eat? Then, it includes milk, cheese, cream, ice cream, butter, yogurt, and other products containing dairy.
In the case of lactose intolerance, a person might experience digestive symptoms after 30 minutes to 2 hours of consuming any of these foods. The symptoms and severity vary from person to person and depend upon the amount of lactose consumed and the amount of lactase enzyme in the body.
Now let’s look at the symptoms or health complications a person may feel if their lactose intolerance is left untreated.
Gas, bloating, and cramps are the most common symptoms of lactose intolerance. If you experience severe flatulence after consuming dairy, it could be an obvious giveaway of your body not being able to digest lactose. This means the lactose coming from dairy products is moving directly into the colon instead of being processed and absorbed in the body.
This happens most commonly due to the lack of the lactase enzyme. After moving into the colon, the undigested lactose mixes with the bacteria, which leads to gas-building. You might experience severe flatulence ever so often if you keep taking lactose in your diet.
Unhealthy Weight Loss
The fact that your body isn’t able to process or utilize lactose could result in unhealthy or unexpected weight loss. This is because lactose plays important roles inside the body besides calcium, vitamins, and proteins, all of which our body obtains from dairy products.
Lactose, in particular, helps our body absorb various minerals like zinc and magnesium. These minerals and vitamins are crucial for the development of bones. Thus, not being able to get the right amount of these vitamins and minerals due to lactose intolerance could take a toll on your health. This could result in unhealthy weight loss, which could increase the risk of malnutrition, osteoporosis, and osteopenia.
Therefore, in cases of lactose intolerance, the patient needs to add other sources of all these vital nutrients to their diet. Food like vegetables, beans, nuts, soy products, and sunlight are all good sources here. In addition, one can consult a dietitian and take food supplements to fulfill their body’s requirements.
Osteopenia is a condition in which bone mineral density is lost, which results in weak bones. Lower bone density increases the risk of osteoporosis, an advanced stage where bones can break very easily. When a person with lactose intolerance avoids dairy products completely, the risk of osteopenia increases. This is because calcium and vitamin D are crucial for maintaining bone health, and lactose intolerance makes it difficult to get them in the required amount.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which our bone density is lost, resulting in the bones becoming weak and brittle. These weak bones could lose their structure and strength over time and become so fragile that a bend or jerk could result in a fracture.
The cause behind osteoporosis is a lack of calcium in the diet. The same calcium that we get from dairy products. Yes, milk and other dairy products are the primary sources of calcium in our diet, which is essential for maintaining bone density. Thus, avoiding dairy and, at the same time finding other substitutes for calcium is essential to eliminating the risk of developing osteoporosis for lactose intolerant people.
Malnutrition is a condition where our bodies don’t get the right amount of nutrients from our diet. Not getting enough essential nutrients hampers the body’s healthy functioning, resulting in many serious issues. This means one might feel depressed or tired for no specific reason, or their wounds might take longer than usual to heal. Dietary restrictions such as dairy in case of lactose intolerance could increase the risk of malnutrition.
Another reason for malnutrition related to lactose intolerance could be diarrhea. If lactose intolerance is left untreated and leads to more drastic symptoms such as chronic diarrhea, it could result in malnutrition and dehydration. Diarrhea is reportedly one of the major causes of malnutrition in children.
Chronic diarrhea caused by lactose intolerance can also result in electrolyte loss and dehydration. Babies with severe lactose intolerance are often at a very high risk of getting dehydrated due to a lack of fluid in the body.
Heartburn May Get Worse
Acid reflux or heartburn could also be a symptom in some people with lactose intolerance. If you experience heartburn or indigestion after consuming dairy, there’s a high possibility that you lack lactase, and as a result, your body isn’t able to digest lactose properly.
If you decide to avoid these symptoms and leave your lactose intolerance untreated for a longer period of time, then the heartburn may also get worse.
- If you experience any of these symptoms, post consuming dairy and doubt that you might be lactose intolerant. Then, here’s a lactose intolerance test at home to confirm whether or not you truly are lactose intolerant.
Lactose Intolerance Management
Now that we have explored all the possible symptoms and complications relating to lactose intolerance let’s move on to the treatment. It’s important to note that there’s no cure for the condition, but there are some ways to control the symptoms. Well, that’s why we called it “manage,” because you can only manage lactose intolerance and can’t treat it completely.
By making some dietary changes, you can easily get rid of all the unpleasant symptoms and risks associated with lactose intolerance.
Modify Your Diet
Reducing the intake of lactose in the diet is the easiest way to deal with the symptoms and risk factors of lactose intolerance. This means you can manage your condition just by reducing or eliminating dairy products from your diet. This is because lactose intolerance is a low-risk condition. This means in case you ever wondered, “Can you die from lactose intolerance?” then the answer is most likely no!
Instead of dairy, you can opt for their lactose-free alternatives. Soy milk, rice, oats, almond, coconut milk, almond milk, tofu, potato milk, quinoa, and hazelnuts are all good substitutes.
Lactase Enzyme Supplements
Another good approach to dealing with lactose intolerance is adding lactase products to your diet. Taking lactase enzyme supplements may reduce the symptoms by making it easier for your body to digest this sugar. However, a lactase supplement might not work for you if you have a milk or dairy allergy instead of intolerance.
Therefore, consulting an expert before introducing any lactase enzyme supplement to your diet makes sense.
Some studies (1, 2) show that both probiotics and prebiotics reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance. The most effective probiotic strains for lactose intolerance are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Loading up on probiotics and prebiotics can help keep your gut healthy and relieve GI issues commonly associated with lactose intolerance.
Another reason for including prebiotics in your diet is that you’re cutting back on your dairy intake. If you’re not getting enough prebiotics to maintain a healthy gut from yogurt or cheese, then introducing a dairy-free alternative to your diet becomes important. The most common dairy-free prebiotic alternatives are fermented foods such as kimchi, pickled vegetables, and sauerkraut.
Also, you can check out this article to learn about some of the best probiotics for lactose intolerance.
Frequently Asked Question Relating To Lactose Intolerance
Is Lactose Intolerance Worse on an Empty Stomach?
The answer is yes if you’ve ever wondered if lactose intolerance worsens on an empty stomach. This is because, on an empty stomach, dairy products move faster through our intestines, which causes lactose intolerance symptoms.
Drinking a lot of milk on an empty stomach can even cause issues such as diarrhea if you’re lactose intolerant. Therefore, avoiding lactose-containing foods is a good idea if you’re lactose intolerant. But if you’re consuming dairy to develop tolerance, avoid them on an empty stomach. You can include milk or other dairy products with meals; this might cause less discomfort.
What Foods Have the Highest Lactose?
Foods that have the highest lactose content are:
- Milk chocolate
Does Our Body Need Lactose?
Yes, our bodies need lactose, a carbohydrate that breaks down to give us energy. The roles of lactose in our body are:
- Lactose also promotes the growth of bacterial strains, such as bifidobacteria, in our gut.
- Lactose is made of galactose and glucose, two simple sugars used by the body as energy.
- Lactose also plays a role in the absorption of calcium as well as minerals like copper and zinc.
Taking everything into consideration, we can conclude that lactose intolerance may not be a high-risk condition, but it can definitely cause a lot of discomforts. The most common symptoms associated with the condition, such as flatulence, bloating, and diarrhea, are not only bothersome but can also get a little worse in the long run if ignored.
Therefore, if you witness any discomforting signs of lactose intolerance after consuming dairy, it makes complete sense to get the condition diagnosed.
There are different types of tests your doctor might conduct to confirm your intolerance to lactose, such as blood glucose tests, hydrogen breath tests, and stool acidity tests. Before this, you can also take a quiz to be assured that your symptoms are caused by lactose intolerance and not any other underlying condition.
Here is a “am I lactose intolerant quiz” for you.
Lastly, we suggest you take some good supplements, such as our “Optimal Health Gut Solution” to ease the digestive issues associated with lactose intolerance.