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Expert tips for living with lactose intolerance

As a naturopath at GutAid, I often see people who tell me they are lactose intolerant. Yet when they heal their gut and choose good foods, they are good to go again! So for the love of dairy, let’s get educated!

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is an enzyme deficiency. People who are lactose intolerant lack the lactase enzyme that is needed to break down lactose (milk sugar) into simple sugars for digestion. Without the lactase, the undigested lactose makes its way into the large intestines causing digestive upset.

There are many possible causes for lactose intolerance:

  • Some people naturally lack the enzyme. This can be from birth or develop as they get older. This is when dairy specific digestive enzymes containing protease and tilactase are your best friend!
  • Damage to the intestinal lining, which is responsible for producing lactase in the gut.
  • Dysbiosis: certain bacteria produce lactase that helps breakdown and absorb lactose. If your gut doesn’t have these species (lactobacillius and bifidobacteria) or you have too many bad ones over-powering the good guys you may struggle digesting dairy.

Lactose intolerance is not the same as a dairy allergy

They might sound the same, but dairy allergies are different altogether. Lactose intolerance involves the digestive system. Dairy allergies however, involve the immune system.

They are common in around 5 per cent of young children with symptoms such as itchy skin, hives, rashes, diarrhoea, stomach pains.

Some symptoms of lactose intolerance and dairy allergy may be the same. This includes diarrhoea, nausea and/or vomiting, stomach pains and abdominal cramps, bloating and gas. However, dairy allergy can also cause a reaction in other parts of the body. This includes swelling, wheezing, trouble swallowing  and even anaphylaxis.

If someone has an actual dairy allergy, they have an allergy to the protein. Their body reacts to the proteins in milk and other dairy products as if they are dangerous invaders. In that situation, staying away from dairy completely is best.

Not allergic, but want to eat dairy?

Lactose intolerance is easily managed. You can limit the amount of dairy you eat and drink. You can also try lactose-reduced products.

  1. Cut out all dairy products for one week
  2. Take notice of any changes to digestion, skin or sinuses
  3. Heal your gut. Eat fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, yoghurt
  4. Take a digestive enzyme, gut healing powder and a probiotic (ask your health care professional for specific strains)
  5. Reintroduce with good forms. Greek yoghurt, A2 milk, cheese and butter are easier to digest so start with these. Make sure when choosing your products you read the label and avoid colours, flavours and additives as these are often a cause of digestive symptoms as well.
  6. Minimise. Dairy products can be pretty hard to digest, so keeping dairy as a minor part of the diet is a good idea
    • Switch to dairy-free milks (like coconut milk) in cooking/baking
    • Try water, coconut water, or dairy-free milk in smoothies
    • Have dairy-free milk or yoghurt for breakfast
    • Switching your flat white to an almond milk one
    • Remember — dark chocolate has less dairy than milk chocolate!

If you have done all this and find that dairy still causes digestive symptoms, don’t despair. Indulging in that chocolate for special occasions or holidays like Easter and Christmas can still be done with a dairy-specific digestive enzyme formula containing tilactase and protease. Taken when you are about to consume dairy (or after, if you have forgotten), this will give your body the enzymes it needs to break it down, causing you less symptoms. Winner!

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