What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

It’s estimated that almost 40 million Americans are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is a common dietary condition that affects the way people digest dairy products. It varies in severity from person to person, and can mean that a bowl of cereal can either be a healthy start to the day, or a visit to the hospital.

What is Lactose?

Lactose Intolerance Stock Photo Kansas CityLactose is a sugar that is found in most dairy products. As with all sugars, it is digested with an enzyme that is found in digestive acids called lactase. It is commonly found in many non-milk products as well, including:


Lactose has chemical properties that make it easy to form and compress, making it a popular choice to form tablets for pharmaceuticals

Baked Goods

Most baked goods are made with some sort of milk product (powdered milk, cream, butter) to give them a sweet, full taste.

“Instant” Foods

Many instant potato, coffee, and soup mixes contain milk products for flavoring or as a sweetener.

Protein Powders

Many “bulk up” or “workout” protein powders are derived from whey protein, and often contain dehydrated milk products.

What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

Some people are born without lactase production, causing them to be unable to digest dairy products. Others develop it after a disease, and have to ease their way back into being able to digest lactose again. For some, it is a sudden change well into adulthood. Some studies show that it is caused by genetics, and that it runs in families.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

Depending on how severe the case of lactose intolerance is, symptoms can range and include the following:

  • Feelings of bloating and fatigue
  • Cramping
  • Gastro-Intestinal sounds
  • Flatulence or burping
  • Burning sensation in stomach
  • Mild to intense nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in stool

Dealing with Lactose Intolerance

It is surprising that even though many adults suffer from some degree of lactose intolerance, there are relatively few options for living a dairy-free lifestyle. Depending on your personal preference and severity of condition, there are many options for dealing with lactose intolerance including:

Limiting Dairy Intake

Some people opt to eat limited amounts of dairy by replacing core parts of their diet with non-dairy versions. For example:

  • Don’t eat cereal for breakfast
  • Don’t drink milk by itself
  • Don’t drink ice cream

Cutting Dairy Out, Entirely

  • Living a dairy-free life is very difficult.
  • Most grocery chains will only have a few non-dairy versions of common products (such as soy milk, or lactose-free butter)
  • Many restaurants don’t have allergy information about their food

Use a Lactase Enzyme Product

Most grocery stores or pharmacies carry lactase, which can be used to digest dairy products for you comes in different forms such as:

  • Drippable, flavorless liquid
  • Small, easy to digest pills
  • Chewable tablets

These are not medication, so you cannot overdose, and they often contain no other ingredients.

Sometimes, lactose intolerance is a symptom of a bigger issue. If you’re concerned about dietary restrictions, schedule an dietary consult appointment with Colorectal Surgery Associates, PC in Kansas City.