Yes, people may become lactose intolerant at any point of time in their lives even if they never had any difficulty digesting milk and its products before.
This sudden onset of lactose intolerance may be caused by various medical conditions that disrupt the health and functionality of the gut, which include:
- Gastroenteritis (inflammation and infection of the inner lining of the gut caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites)
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome (group of conditions that irritate the intestine)
- Crohn's disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Diabetic enteropathy (changes in the intestines)
- Human immunodeficiency virus enteropathy
- Prior radiation therapy
- Administration of chemotherapy drugs for cancer
One may even grow out of lactose intolerance with age.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is a condition in which the body is unable to digest lactose, a type of natural sugar found in milk and dairy products. This is not the same as having a milk allergy.
- Lactose that passes through the large intestine (colon) without being properly digested can result in unpleasant symptoms, such as gas, abdominal pain, and bloating.
- Lactose intolerance prevents one from digesting milk products. Others can consume modest amounts of milk products or specific types of milk products without any problem.
All adults are prone to lactose intolerance; however, it is more common among Native Americans, Asian, African, and South American descendants than in European descendants.
Learning how to eat to avoid discomfort and receive enough calcium for good bones is a major difficulty for lactose-intolerant persons.
It may be difficult for lactose-intolerant people to consume enough calcium. Calcium supplements, such as calcium carbonate, are frequently prescribed. The choice to use calcium supplements should be reviewed with the doctor.
What are the signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance?
As undigested lactose reaches the intestine, the intestinal bacteria break it down to produce:
- Intestinal gas
- Acidic substances, predominantly lactic acid
These substances may produce various symptoms, such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Rumbling sounds in the abdomen
These symptoms typically appear 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming lactose-containing foods. The degree of symptoms is usually determined by the amount of lactose consumed and the amount of the enzyme lactase that remains in the intestine.
Risk factors of lactose intolerance
- Premature birth: Cells that produce the enzyme lactase are not developed until the late third trimester
- Older age
- Ethnicity: African American, Hispanic, American, Indian
- Diseases that disrupt the integrity and functionality of the intestine, such as long-standing infections
- Lactose intolerance may be developed following treatments for various cancers
How is lactose intolerance diagnosed?
A thorough medical history will be taken by the doctor to make the diagnosis, who may also order various tests to confirm lactose intolerance.
- Breath hydrogen test: Hydrogen gas is produced in the gut when lactose is broken down by bacteria in the intestine. This gas is removed from the body through the expiration process of the lungs. The intake of lactose produces a significant amount of hydrogen in the body. If a breath test indicates the presence of hydrogen gas, the test is positive for lactose intolerance.
- Lactose tolerant test: The blood sugar levels rise significantly after consuming a lactose meal in lactose-intolerant patients. Patients are asked to have a lactose meal a few hours before the test that measures blood glucose levels. To digest the lactose load ingested, the amount of the enzyme, lactase, increases. Because lactase increases, the blood sugar levels increase. If a person is not lactose intolerant, their blood sugar levels appear normal.
- Fecal pH test: Lactose is broken down into lactic and other acids in the colon, and the resulting acidity can be measured using a simple stool acidity test. This exam is typically designated for infants or tiny children who are unable to do the other tests.
First, abstain from milk and lactose-containing foods for a few days. Then, consume two large glasses of skim or low-fat milk. If symptoms appear within four hours, lactose intolerance is almost definite.
- CDC Warns of Potentially Fatal Bacterial Illness on U.S. Gulf Coast
- Helping Others as Volunteers Helps Kids 'Flourish': Study
- FDA Approves Pfizer's RSV Shot for Older Adults
- What to Do When Tough-to-Treat Lymphoma Strikes During Pregnancy
- Rate of Pregnant U.S. Women Who Have Diabetes Keeps Rising
- More Health News »
How to treat lactose intolerance
The treatment for lactose intolerance depends on the willingness to accept the symptoms. If the symptoms are minor, avoiding large quantities of milk and milk products may be sufficient.
Some may be extremely sensitive to little levels of lactose, which can be treated in two ways:
- First option:
- To begin, all foods should be thoroughly tested for lactose
- Bread, baked goods, cereals, instant potatoes, soups, margarine, lunch meat, salad dressings, pancakes, biscuits, cookies, and sweets can have lactose hidden in them
- Lactose can be found in both prescription and over-the-counter medications; read labels to avoid foods that have milk and lactose on their labels
- Second option:
- Purchase lactose-free milk substitutes that are widely available in most grocery shops
- Consume milk that readily contains the enzyme lactase
- Lactase drops or tablets are available as over-the-counter medications
- These can be mixed with milk or can be taken with meals to replace the enzyme that the body no longer has
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Nabili SN. Lactose Intolerance. eMedicineHealth. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/lactose_intolerance/article_em.htm#lactose_intolerance_symptoms
National Institutes of Health. Lactose Intolerance. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance
Cleveland Clinic. Lactose Intolerance. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7317-lactose-intolerance
Top Can You Suddenly Become Lactose Intolerant Related Articles
Calcium-Rich DishesExplore 15 delicious calcium-rich dishes. Tender stuffed chicken, Spanish cheese, and almond cake top this array of tasty foods packed with calcium.
Milk Mysteries: What's in Your Glass?The milk aisle is packed with options. Which is best for you? WebMD has got the lowdown on 15 varieties of dairy, soy, nut, and seed milks.
Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis)Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is an irritation of the nose caused by pollen and is associated with the following allergic symptoms: nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, eye and nose itching, and tearing eyes. Avoidance of known allergens is the recommended treatment, but if this is not possible, antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays may help alleviate symptoms.
Which Foods Are Highest in Calcium for Your Diet and Body?Your nervous system, muscles, heart, bones, teeth, and more all need calcium. To get more calcium in your diet, try these 10 calcium-rich foods!
How Much Lactose Can I Tolerate?People with lactose intolerance can typically tolerate up to 12 grams of lactose. This is equal to one large cup or about 8 ounces of milk. Some can even have up to 12.5 ounces of milk without experiencing any symptoms.
Is Almond Milk Healthier Than Regular Milk?Almond milk is ideal for people who prefer a vegan diet and want fewer calories, but regular milk is more effective at strengthening bones during youth.
Is Milk Bad for UTI?Milk is safe to drink if you have a UTI. However, yogurt and other fermented dairy products that contain “good” bacteria are better in preventing infections and lowering your risk for UTI.
Is Soy Milk Bad for You?Soy milk is not bad for you provided it is consumed in less than three servings per day and you do not have a soy allergy. Over the years, soy milk and other soy products have been conceived as bad for health. This is largely attributed to the animal studies that have reported soy in bad light.
Lactose intolerance is a common problem where a person's digestive system cannot digest lactose. Signs and symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal distention (swelling)
There are several tests to diagnose lactose intolerance. Treatment is generally made with dietary changes, supplements, and adaptation to small amounts of milk.
Lactose Tolerance TestThe lactose tolerance test is a test used to diagnose lactoce intolerance. Lactose intolerance occurs when and individual does not have an enzyme breaks down ingested lactose. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain.
What Are the Symptoms of a Milk Allergy in Adults?Milk allergy reactions may cause immediate or delayed symptoms. Learn to spot the signs and what foods to avoid if you have a dairy allergy.
What Does Milk of Magnesia Do?Milk of magnesia or Philip’s milk of magnesia is mainly taken as an antacid or a laxative.
Which Milk Is Best For Bones?Grocery store aisles are stocked with multiple different types of milk — from low-fat and skim milk to plant-based alternatives like almond and soy milk. While most types of milk have some calcium in them, their particular nutrition profiles can be very different.