Let's Talk Lactose Intolerance

Let's Talk Lactose Intolerance

Published on Tuesday, February 07, 2023 by Kari Tallent

Take your Lactaid, because this article is going to be Legen-Dairy!

Let’s take a trip back to Organic Chemistry and talk a little about sugars. Fear not if you missed that subject as this will be an easy explanation as we are not all science majors.

Sugars can be broken down into three categories: mono, di, and polysaccharides. This is important to know when learning about lactose and the various aspects of tolerating dairy products. Lactose is a disaccharide composed of two monosaccharides- glucose and galactose, getting its name from the fact that it is the main sugar component in milk and dairy products. Lac is Latin for milk and -ose is Latin for sugar. 

During the digestion process, all nutrients are broken down into their simplest forms to be used for all of the many functions they are part of. In the case of sugars, they are broken down into monosaccharides. This is accomplished by enzymes that separate the di- or polysaccharides into the monosaccharides that create them. In the case of lactose intolerance, there is a lack of the enzyme lactase in the small intestine. The production of this enzyme does reduce in all people as they age, though certain ethnicities are more susceptible to lactose intolerance. When this lack of enzyme occurs it is called lactose malabsorption.

Malabsorption and intolerance are not the same things though.

A person is only considered lactose intolerant if they have symptoms. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include gas, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Be careful not to get lactose intolerance confused with having a milk allergy, as this is an immune system disorder, and treatment and symptoms are much different. 

People with lactose intolerance can still consume small amounts of lactose foods because they have a small amount of lactase. The level of intolerance and symptoms varies between individuals. Because of this many people with lactose intolerance like to play it fast and loose when it comes to eating dairy products. It is when supply outnumbers demand that negative reactions occur and locating a restroom becomes an emergent necessity. 

If you are having these symptoms and have not been diagnosed there are a couple of tests your doctor can conduct to confirm your diagnosis. 

    1. The Hydrogen Breath test. With lactose intolerance, an individual will have higher levels of hydrogen in their breath. To determine this a person will drink a high lactose-containing beverage and hydrogen levels will be measured at regular intervals by your doctor. If hydrogen levels are too high, then you aren’t fully digesting and absorbing lactose.
    2. Lactose Tolerance test. This test is slightly more invasive and reminds me of the glucose test you have to take when pregnant. A high lactose beverage is drunk and the individual being tested must wait two hours and then have a blood test. The blood test is to check glucose levels in the bloodstream, and whether or not they have risen. If there is no rise in glucose that means your body is not digesting and absorbing the lactose in the delicious beverage. 

Lactose Intolerance is a very manageable condition and symptoms can easily be avoided. 

Simply limiting cow’s milk and other dairy products, or consuming low-lactose or lactose-free products can still allow you to enjoy dairy foods. You can also add a lactase enzyme (liquid or powder) to milk to break down lactose or take a lactase enzyme tablet before eating. So if you are dreaming of cheese, remember to consume it in moderation or take an enzyme to save yourself and those stuck in the car with you. 


  1. Lactose intolerance. Lactose Intolerance | Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2023, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lactose-intolerance 
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Definition & Facts for lactose intolerance. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved January 23, 2023, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/definition-facts 
  3. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, March 5). Lactose intolerance. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 23, 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lactose-intolerance/symptoms-causes/syc-20374232 

Leave a comment on this article: