Treatment for lactose intolerance depends on how sensitive you are to foods that contain lactose. The condition can usually be controlled by monitoring your diet.
If you decide to experiment with what you can and cannot eat, make sure that you introduce new foods gradually rather than all at once. This will help you to get used to any foods that you might be sensitive to.
Missing out on the nutrients provided by products that contain lactose can lead to deficiencies in calcium, plus other important minerals. It is particularly important for young children to have certain nutrients in their diet to ensure healthy growth and development.
If you or your child is extremely sensitive to lactose, talk to your GP about your diet. You may need to have regular bone mineral density checks, or you may be referred to a dietitian (an expert in diet and nutrition). They can advise you about what foods should be included in your (or your child’s) diet.
Depending on how mild or severe your lactose intolerance is, you may need to change the amount of milk in your diet. For example:
- You may be able to have milk in your tea or coffee, but not on your cereal.
- Some products containing milk, such as milk chocolate, may still be acceptable in small quantities.
- You may find that drinking milk as part of a meal, rather than on its own, improves how the lactose is absorbed.
If even a small amount of milk triggers your symptoms, there are some alternatives that you can try, such as soya milk. You can now also buy milk that is made from rice, oats, potatoes and even peas.
Some dairy products may be easier to digest than others. Cheese, for example, usually contains less lactose than milk. In particular, fermented dairy products, such as yoghurts, are often easier to digest.
Fermented dairy products are products that have been broken down by substances, such as yeast, bacteria, or other micro-organisms. This means that the lactose they contain will already be partially broken down, and they may be easier to digest than fresh dairy products.
Possible dairy products you could try include:
- yoghurts, including probiotic yoghurts (that contain live bacteria)
- probiotic milk
- sour cream
- cottage cheese
- hard cheeses, such as Edam and Cheddar
It is important that you do not eliminate dairy products completely from your diet because they provide essential nutrients.
Lactose intolerance is usually caused by a deficiency of the enzyme called lactase (a protein that causes a chemical reaction to occur). A lactase substitute is available that can be taken to replace the lactase that your body cannot produce.
The lactase substitute comes in liquid form (usually as drops) that can be taken before a meal or added to milk. This can be very effective in helping your digestive system to digest the lactose in the meal. You can also take lactase pills (lactase enzyme capsules) before a meal.
Both lactase enzyme drops and capsules are available from most health foods shops.
If you are unable to eat most dairy products, you may not be getting enough calcium in your daily diet. You can stock up on calcium by eating foods such as:
- okra (a green vegetable, shaped like a pod that is about 5–18cm (2–7 inches) long
- kale (a leafy green vegetable)
- dried fruit
- soya drinks with added calcium
- soya beans
- tofu (a food product that is made from soya beans and is often used by vegetarians as a substitute for meat)
- nuts (such as almonds, brazil nuts and sesame seeds)
- fish containing edible bones (for example, sardines, salmon, and pilchards)