Can You Become Lactose Intolerant? 5 Signs & Symptoms

7 minute read

Dairy has long been an important part of the Standard American Diet, even earning itself a prominent place in our early food pyramid. But for the lactose intolerant, dairy is a high-risk food that should be avoided. If you suffer from lactose intolerance, then eating or drinking too much dairy can cause a wide range of negative health effects.

But how would you know if lactose intolerance was really the problem if you don’t know anything about it? Here are a few signs and symptoms that could mean you’re suffering from lactose intolerance.

If you’ve noticed one or more of these happening to you, it might be a good idea to ask your doctor about lactose intolerance. The best way to correct the problem is to understand it.

What Does It Mean to Be Lactose Intolerant?

Lactose refers to a type of sugar that is found naturally in most milk. Lactose intolerance refers to an inability to break down this sugar.

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Humans produce an enzyme known as lactose. This enzyme is responsible for breaking down lactose into a usable form. It’s especially important in infants, who are breastfeeding and need more milk than adult humans do.

When you get older, your body naturally produces less lactose. So for many people, lactose intolerance is something that happens naturally and can’t be avoided. If you’ve noticed any of the following symptoms, it could be that lactose intolerance is the reason for it.

1. Bloating

This is an extremely common symptom, even for folks who aren’t lactose intolerant. But if you notice an irregular amount of bloating after you consume a meal that’s high in dairy, the root cause could be lactose intolerance.

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Bloating refers to the distended gut you get sometimes after a big meal. It’s when your belly appears larger than normal, but instead of flabby fat, it’s just a hard, round bloat.

Bloating on its own might not be enough to signal that you’re suffering from lactose intolerance, but if it is particularly painful, or if you notice it especially after eating dairy, then the chances that it could be related to lactose intolerance are greater.

2. Gas

Like bloating, occasional gas or gas on its own might not be a surefire sign that you’re suffering from lactose intolerance. But if your gas is accompanied by pain, or if you notice gas and bloating happening together, then that could be a sign that lactose intolerance is a factor.

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This excessive gas is caused by the fermentation of lactose in your gut. If you’re lactose intolerant, it means the lactose will ferment more inside your gut, which can cause a buildup of gas and flatulence.

3. Loose Stool

Lactose intolerance can cause an increase in the volume of water present in your colon, which can cause your stool to be looser. Again, like the other symptoms on this list, there are lots of possible causes for loose stool.

If you notice this along with other symptoms on this list, though, then it may be worth considering a lactose-free diet, or at least try cutting back on your dairy intake and see if it helps alleviate your symptoms.

4. Painful Digestion

Along with bloating and gas, there are other things that can contribute to painful, difficult digestion. If you notice cramps or constipation, for example, these could be the result of lactose intolerance. Your digestive system is full of bacteria, some good and some bad. The “good” bacteria is natural; it’s supposed to be in your digestive system to help you break down food properly.

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When you suffer from lactose intolerance, the bacteria in your gut have a harder time breaking down the lactose in dairy, and it can cause blockages or painful cramps. If you regularly notice pain in your gut relating to digestion, it could be a case of lactose intolerance.

5. Headaches and Other Symptoms

There are a variety of other symptoms that can be associated with lactose intolerance, even those that are not necessarily related to your digestion. For example, you may experience headaches or regular feelings of fatigue.

Some other common symptoms include:

♦ Painful ulcers in your mouth

♦ Skin issues like eczema

♦ Muscle or joint pain

♦ Trouble urinating

♦ A loss of concentration (“brain fog”)

What You Can Do

It’s true that many different dishes and cuisines contain loads and loads of dairy. It can be a hard ingredient to avoid, especially if you frequently eat fast food options and other highly processed foods.

Unfortunately, you may have to get used to asking for “no cheese please” when you go out to eat, if you are in fact lactose intolerant. Still, if you do suffer from lactose intolerance, it’s important to make your condition known to friends and family, so they can help you monitor your dairy intake and help make sure you eat foods that are low in lactose.

The Bottom Line

Especially if you’ve experienced more than one of the items on this list, it would be worth investigating whether or not you’re truly lactose intolerant. If you are, you may have to make a lifestyle change in order to keep yourself and your body functioning at a high level.

Either way, it’s a good idea to keep track of any digestive issues you may experience, so you can talk to your doctor if they get too severe.

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