Straight, No Chaser: Lactose Intolerance – It's Explosive!

So I’m at dinner with a group of friends, and somehow the topic gets to lactose intolerance. For 15 minutes. They were really into it. At dinner! You know what it is. Everyone seemingly knows someone who has it, even if (hopefully) you aren’t reminded of it too often. Lactose intolerance is a state where you simply have difficulty digesting lactose (one of the sugars we consume, most notably in milk and other dairy products) because of a deficiency in the enzyme that breaks it down, called lactase. Lactose intolerance occurs more often in Black, Asian, Hispanic and Native Americans, but that doesn’t mean your body read that book.
So by now you may be thinking “What is there to discuss besides the odoriferous emanations produced?” (In case you didn’t get the reference that’s from an old Right Guard commercial featuring Charles Barkley.) Well, the biggest concern from a health standpoint is to ensure you’re still getting enough calcium to keep your bones strong and enough Vitamin D. Here are 3 sets of practical facts to help you get through it all.
1. If you’re lactose intolerant, that doesn’t mean you’re allergic to dairy products.

  • This is an important distinction. There’s nothing immediately life-threatening about the ingestion of dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant, as there might be if you were allergic. Just be aware of the cramping, bloating, flatulence, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and gas that may ensue.

2. If you’re lactose intolerant, that doesn’t mean you can’t necessarily have any dairy or won’t ever be able to have dairy.

  • Lactose intolerance occurs in many shades of grey. Some people get worse with age; others get better as they learn to work around it. Some develop lactose intolerance at birth, others later in life, and others develop it after injury or surgery to the small intestine (which is where lactase is normally produced). Some can ingest small amounts of certain products without symptoms. In the privacy of your own surroundings, you should discover for yourself if you’re affected every time you have daily or whether or not only large amounts of certain products cause symptoms (e.g. Try not to eat the entire gallon of ice cream.). You should also gauge your response to daily after taking various lactase-containing supplements.

3. If you’re lactose intolerant, you still can get adequate calcium. Here’s a few suggestions.

  • Soy and rice products have exploded (in a different way) on the market. Consider soy milk, soybeans and tofu.
  • Many juice, bread and cereal makers have taken to providing calcium.
  • Some fruits and veggies are great sources. Consider broccoli, collard and turnip greens, kale, okra, pinto beans, rhubarb, and spinach. Oranges are a good source of calcium.
  • Other great foods include almonds, salmon, sardines and tuna.

If you have any questions or comments (I’m sure you’re busting at the gut to discuss this topic), let ’em rip…

0 thoughts on “Straight, No Chaser: Lactose Intolerance – It's Explosive!

  1. When my son was born, he kept throwing up. It was impossible for him to keep down anything. The doctors performed all sorts of tests to figure out what was wrong with him and could come up with nothing. One day the pediatrician came into my room in tears and said to me…….”I don’t know what is wrong with this baby. I cannot figure out why he keeps throwing everything up.” So they had to put him on an IV so that he could get nourishment while they tried to figure out what was going on. A few days later the doctor came to see me and asked me if I was lactose intolerant, and I told her that not only am I, but so is my entire family (black and native American heritage). So she told me that she thought that is what was going on with my son, so they gave him soy milk, which of course he threw up as well. So they had to order special sucrose free soy formula to try to see if he could drink that. It worked. So unfortunately, my child had to drink this special milk that had to be specially ordered because he was having an allergic reaction to the lactose as well as sucrose. The doctor told me that most children that have milk allergies usually outgrow them. It was really hard because he could not have any dairy products, because if he did he would start convulsing, vomiting and get these nasty red welts. He is now 17 and no longer has the allergy, but he still will not drink milk. He works out a lot and drinks protein shakes daily, so I buy him soy milk, and I cook with milk so that he gets his daily calcium and vitamin D.
    Thanks for this blog Dr. Sterling. You make me sad somedays, but then you crack me up on others. Very well done. Good information!!!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Stephanie. I’m trying not to be a stinker.
      Clearly your son was in the subset of people who didn’t make lactase from birth. Remember, it’s a misnomer to call it a milk allergy. Although it’s most notably in daily products, lactose is pretty ubiquitous in the foods we eat.
      There actually is a train of thought that lactose intolerance most commonly emerges during the teen years because that’s when cow’s milk usage drops off. It’s possible that the body, in response, stops making lactase. In any event, thanks for sharing your story!