Lactose Intolerance - up to 80% affected

Explainer video: Lactose intolerance - why now?



Definition, Prevalence, Symptoms, Testing and Treatment

Lactose intolerance is by far the most common food intolerance. Prevalence varies according to ethnicity. In some ethnic groups like African Americans up to 80% are affected*. In others it can be 15% to 50%^.

Lactose intolerance means the inability digesting lactose - the sugar found in milk and milk products like cheese, yoghurt and thousands of processed foods.

The damage caused by lactose intolerance usually appears as gastro-intestinal problems - but is also known to cause 'the blues' and even and depression.

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FAQs on Lactose Intolerance

Definition of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance Definition

Lactose intolerance is defined as the inability to break down lactose - a sugar found in cow's milk and dairy products. To break down lactose - we need an enzyme lactase.

Of course this is because cow's milk is intended for the cow's young, the calf. A minority of people have evolved the ability to digest lactose and they are known as Lactase persistent.


How common is Lactose Intolerance?

Prevalence of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance: NIDDK (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, US) gives 75% of the world’s population as Lactose Intolerant to some extent. That is, three quarters (3 in 4) of all people have difficulty digesting lactose. In certain ethnic groups prevalence is even higher:

  • Lactose intolerance affects more than 90% of American Negroes
  • Lactose intolerance affects ~ 80 - 90% of Asians

This second statistic is something our Chinese citizens do not generally appreciate. Many people of Chinese descent are eating dairy without realising it could be causing their symptoms and illnesses.

Lactose intolerance is increasing due to highly effective marketing of milk products - and mass production of processed foods containing low-cost milk derivatives. Lactose intolerance is responsible for common symptoms like bloating, flatulence, diarrhea and Irritable Bowel Syndrome in millions of people. This strongly suggests that milk and milk products are not suitable foods for the majority of people.

Heavily subsidised dairy farming now produces millions of tons of milk and milk derivatives - delivering low cost ingredients for manufacturers - like lactose and milk protein for sweetening and bulking up processed foods cheaply - like cookies and confectionery.


What are the symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

The symptoms of Lactose intolerance include:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like:
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Abdominal bloating (stomach bloating)
    • Flatulence
    • Irritable Bowel Syndrome - alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation
  • Malabsorption symptoms - nutrient deficiency:Mood swings, depression
    • Low iron levels
    • Anaemia
    • Low calcium and other mineral levels
    • Bone density loss
    • Osteoporosis

Comments: The symptoms of Lactose intolerance can be confused with those of Fructose intolerance and Gluten intolerance, because they all overlap. So just because you have some of these symptoms - it doesn't automatically mean you have Lactose Intolerance.

All food intolerance symptoms - if left untreated - become worse with age. 


How do you test for Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose Intolerance Testing Methods

Lactose Intolerance: Some people get clinical tests including the Hydrogen breath test and stool acidity tests. Unfortunately most clinical testing for food intolerance is not reliable. And breath tests are amongst the least reliable methods.

However the Journal Method is always accurate easily identifies and food intolerance. You track changes in your symptoms as you switch a few foods. But it's not wise change your diet without having proof of your intolerance.

Comments For Lactose Intolerance: Generally if gastro-intestinal symptoms are chronic (ie. you have had symptoms for a long time) then Lactose is a suspect, along with Fructose and Gluten.


How did I get Lactose Intolerance?

Causes of Lactose Intolerance

Quite simply - you got it from your parents, grandparents and other ancestors - it’s in your genes! If your ancestry is Northern European (eg. Dutch or Scandinavian) the chance of Lactose Intolerance is only 25%. If not - then generally you have a 75% chance of being Lactose Intolerant*.

Importantly - because Lactose Intolerance is genetic - and if you have children - then you have already passed on those genes to your sons and daughters. So if you do have Lactose Intolerance - then make sure you alert your children too. Knowledge is power!

As you may already know - untreated Lactose Intolerance leads to chronic disease: anaemia, osteoporosis and others. But when you observe your intolerance with the right diet you prevent those diseases appearing.


How is Lactose Intolerance treated?

Treatment for Lactose Intolerance

The simple strategy for Lactose Intolerance is to remove Lactose from your diet. You could easily switch to a Dairy-free diet (which is also Lactose-Free).

Some  people choose to use lactose enzyme products - in which the lactose is already broken down by lactase. However, it stands to reason that if you react badly to one part of the milk - you will very likely have difficulty digesting other parts of cow's milk - like the protein casein. A fully Dairy-free diet is a much safer option.

Something to remember before switching your diet: the symptoms of Lactose intolerance are very similar to those of Fructose intolerance - so the two often get mixed up. The best way to tackle issues is with a low toxin diet.


When will I be cured from Lactose Intolerance?

Here at foodintol® we don't regard Lactose Intolerance as a 'disease' - so it does not need to be 'cured'. It is genetic - it can't be cured because we cannot change our genes. It's like having curly hair, blue eyes or freckles.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose - the sugar in cow's milk. It also applies to other mammalian milks like goat milk, sheep's milk, buffalo milk etc. Our brilliant human bodies were never equipped to process milk. After all, cow's milk is intended for the cow's offspring, the calf - which does have the processing equipment - but even that changes upon weaning.


Lactose Intolerance and Associated Disease

It is estimated that up to 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant to some extent*. Generally this is not a well-known statistic but well referenced by clinical studies beginning almost forty years ago in the US.

This not really surprising when we remember that Humans are the only mammals on earth to continue to drink milk after weaning at ~2 years of age. People of developed Western nations consume vast quantities of milk in products like yogurt, cheese and ice cream, and in processed foods.

Lactose Intolerance increases with age. So for many people - alternating bouts of nausea, diarrhea and constipation have become an everyday thing (Irritable Bowel). But it is not normal and can lead to serious health risks.

When left untreated, problems with malabsorption (like iron deficiency or chronic dehydration) arise. Further neglect can lead to anaemia and even osteoporosis and spontaneous bone fracture. 


People of Chinese Descent - and Cow's Milk Products

For thousands of years there was never any cow's milk in the traditional Chinese diet. And pepple of Chinese descent don't suffer any cultural calcium deficiency - or osteoporosis. In addition - ethnic Chinese eating a traditional diet of fish, vegetables and rice have low levels of cholesterol and heart disease.

On the other hand - Westerners in developed countries with abundant dairy foods in the diet have the highest levels of osteoporosis and other chronic diseases.

  • This is at odds with the 'general rule' peddled by dairy corporations that milk prevents osteoporosis

Recent Clinical studies have shown that consuming dairy products at the recommended level (three serves a day) does not reliably prevent osteoporosis. In fact it can contribute to bone density loss. A 1992 study showed that women on dairy-rich diets actually had a higher rate of bone fracture from osteoporosis that those on a dairy-free diet. It was found that the level of calcium in the body was a delicate balance:

  • Calcium absorption from the diet offset by
  • Leaky Gut: allowing nutrients to leave to body before absorption
  • The loss of calcium leached out by eating animal protein, caffeine, salt and also by smoking and physical inactivity.

So prevention of osteoporosis is not just a matter of eating calcium-rich foods. Firstly the calcium must be in a form that is readily absorbed and secondly we must take care with factors that cause calcium loss, like Leaky Gut.


Absorbing Calcium from Foods

Calcium absorption varies with different foods. It is present in many foods: milk and milk products, broccoli and other green vegetables, many types of beans and fish with edible bones.

However the calcium compound present in dairy foods is in a form that is not readily absorbed (hence recommendations to eat three serves of dairy a day). We simply cannot get enough calcium from dairy otherwise. Other foods contain calcium that is much more easily absorbed. In addition there are now many calcium-fortified products like soy drinks and orange juice that are better sources of calcium.

We now know that other factors like caffeine, smoking and physical activity all play a part in maintaining appropriate levels of calcium in our bodies. It is therefore always better to take a wholistic approach to a balanced diet and lifestyle.


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*Swagerty DL Lactose Intolerance Am Fam Physician. 2002 May 1;65(9):1845-1851. 

^Vesa et al. Lactose intolerance J Am Coll Nutr April 2000 vol. 19 no. suppl 2 165S-175S  Lactose intolerance in Europe

All foodintol® information is based on research from peer-reviewed medical journals