Many people who think they have IBS are actually lactose intolerant. Of course it’s possible to have IBS and have trouble with lactose too!
Lactose intolerance can cause just about all of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
The good news is that if your IBS is simply lactose intolerance you can cure yourself by avoiding dairy products.
The bad news is, that to cure yourself you MAY need to avoid dairy products. :(
More on that in in a minute. There’s hope!
What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
- Abdominal (belly) cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Floating stool (poop)
- Foul smelling stool
I bet some of those symptoms seem familiar.
Lactose intolerance can also lead to malnutrition and can cause slow growth in children.
What causes lactose intolerance?
There is a kind of sugar in milk called lactose. Your body needs to have an enzyme called lactase to digest lactose. If your body doesn’t produce enough lactase, then the sugar doesn’t get digested properly.
As the undigested lactose travels through your bowels it feeds bacteria which produce gas and cramping and all the other symptoms listed above.
How do you know if you’re lactose intolerant?
Well, there are some test your doctor can perform. One is a lactose tolerance blood test, the other is called a hydrogen breath test.
A hydrogen breath test can tell the doctors if you’re lactose intolerant OR if you have too much bacteria in your small intestine (which could also play a role in IBS).
But really? If you avoid eating dairy products like cheese and milk for a few days (you have to check those food labels), and all your symptoms go away, it’s a good bet you’re lactose intolerant…
Like most of the rest of the planet (see below).
Who else is lactose intolerant?
About 30 million Americans for starters, and it seems to matter where your ancestors came from.
In the United States, lactose intolerance affects:
25% of white people (especially those whose ancestors came from southern Europe).
75% to 90% of people whose ancestors were Asian, African (black) or Native American.
What about the rest of the world?
About 75% of the people on the planet are thought to be lactose intolerant to some degree. So it could be argued that being lactose intolerant is actually NORMAL! Yes, on planet Earth, only about 1 person out of 4 can digest cow’s milk with no problems (frankly, those numbers shocked me!).
Can kids be lactose intolerant?
Milk was made for babies. Full term babies usually have no problems digesting breast milk. Cow’s milk is a different story. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommend that you don’t give infants cow’s milk. I guess it was made for baby cows. ;)
Premature babies (preemies) sometimes have more trouble digesting milk.
As kids get older they have more and more problems digesting milk. That makes sense, since mothers stop breastfeeding their children them after a few years. If there’s no milk, there’s no need to hang on to the tools to digest it.
Many children start to become lactose intolerant around when they’re from 2 to 5 years old.
A lactose intolerance cure?
Maybe! Read on:
The most effective cure for lactose intolerance is to avoid dairy products. No lactose, no problem. But that can be really rough. So scientists have come up with some options.
There are digestive aids like Lactaid that basically contain the lactase your body needs to digest the lactose.
This is great for the cheese or ice cream lovers! :)
There is lactose free milk, that has no lactose in it.
Also, many people who are lactose intolerant can get away with SMALL amounts (a half cup or so) of dairy products. Cutting back to small amounts may make a difference for you.
Sheep’s milk and goat’s milk and soy milk, OH MY!
Many people find goat cheese and goat’s milk much more digestible than cow’s milk.
Be aware, there are lot’s of different makers of goat cheese and they can taste very different. You may need to try a few before finding one you like (my favorite is Chavrie Garlic and Chive).
Goat cheese can REALLY be an “acquired taste” at least for an American guy like me. I eat a lot of it now though, including goat’s milk mozzarella (not for the faint of heart). ;)
There’s also sheep’s milk cheese which is what feta cheese was originally made from.
Then there are things like rice milk, and soy milk. I never really got the hang of those but some people love them.
Lactose intolerance, yogurt, buttermilk, etc.
Yogurt and buttermilk and hard cheeses have less lactose because of fermentation. They’re basically predigested by bacteria which is what turns them from milk to cheese or yogurt or whatever. Gross, but tasty. ;)
Some people that can’t drink milk have little or no problems with some of these.
Nutrition and lactose intolerance:
If you find out you ARE lactose intolerant, you’ll need to find ways to make sure you’re getting enough calcium and probably vitamin D. You should probably talk to a nutritionist or a doctor if you’re going to make major changes in your diet! You don’t want to get a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
Other lactose intolerance tidbits:
Some people who had no previous problems with dairy products become lactose intolerant after being infected with a parasite called giardia.
Damage to the bowels from celiac sprue disease can lead to lactose intolerance.
Women who are lactose intolerant sometimes have fewer problems with it during pregnancy.
Most people make less lactase as they get older. This makes sense since mammals typically drink milk when they’re infants.
Do you have OTHER problem foods?
To find out about other foods that may be causing or triggering your IBS symptoms, visit the Food Intolerance page.
To find WHICH food might be causing your problem, see the Food Elimination Diet page.