You can manage your lactose intolerance symptoms well enough to enjoy your favourite milk and dairy products, although the process takes time.
Studies Prove Lactose Intolerance is Curable
New scientific findings show that you may be able to cure lactose intolerance by helping your gut heal. This can be done by making some changes to your diet and eating habits. This will also help you have an easier time getting your recommended daily calcium requirements to keep your teeth and bones strong.
In one study, researchers concluded that diagnosing lactose intolerance is not as easy as it seems, because lactose intolerance affects people differently. For instance, many individuals who lack the lactase enzymes necessary to break down lactose experience no symptoms, while some do.
Therefore, you may not even need to completely avoid dairy products. Instead, you can just eat yoghurt, ice cream, or cheese in moderation. More importantly, you may be able to overcome lactose intolerance by removing dairy from your diet for a short period of time, allowing your gut to fully heal before consuming dairy again.
Another study conducted by a gastroenterologist suggested that you can alter and change the composition of bacterial strains in your gut over time. Lactose-intolerant individuals have different compositions of gut bacteria than those who cannot tolerate it. Thus, if they were to consistently consume small amounts of lactose that triggers some digestive problems, they could slowly improve their tolerance to it after some time. This process would affect and change the composition of bacteria in their gut to the point that it looks similar to that of individuals without lactose intolerance.
To help improve your tolerance to lactose, follow this five-step process below.
1. Identify the Real Culprit.
Find out first if lactose is really the culprit behind your digestive problems. Consult with a qualified nutritionist to find out if your body truly cannot tolerate lactose. Tests may have to be performed to get the proper diagnosis.
2. Temporarily Avoid Dairy.
Once the diagnosis comes out positive for lactose intolerance, we suggest that you avoid consuming dairy and all foods and drinks that contain lactose temporarily. Do this consistently from three weeks to six months to give your intestinal wall lining enough time to heal. Just make sure that you have consulted your nutritionist or dietitian prior to taking dairy out of your diet.
When grocery shopping, read the labels carefully and avoid products that contain milk. Also, check the allergy warning to see what kind of allergy-causing ingredients are used in it to completely remove any possible sources of lactose that you may otherwise miss.
After three weeks, it is time to check your gut’s reaction to lactose again. Consume a cup of milk or two scoops of ice cream. Wait and see within 72 hours if you experience common digestive issues like bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and/or rashes. The presence of these symptoms may mean your intestinal wall hasn’t healed yet or that you have a high level of lactose intolerance.
3. Find Healthy Alternatives.
When you eliminate dairy from your diet, you are at risk of developing a vitamin and nutrient deficiency, such as calcium and Vitamin D. We advise finding lactose-free substitutes that you can tolerate and creating an appropriate meal plan that could be based on a vegan or dairy-free diet. Working closely with a qualified dietitian will help ensure you are still meeting your daily nutrient requirements even without dairy.
Also, consider non-dairy milk products that are derived from nuts or plants like coconut, almond, oat, hemp, cashews, macadamia, and rice. If you don’t like plant-based milk, goat milk is a great alternative.
For baking and cooking, you can use coconut oil as a substitute for butter. You can still satisfy your sweet tooth cravings with lactose-free ice cream and plain yoghurt topped with fruits that contain little or no lactose like bananas.
4. Help Your Gut Heal.
To speed up your gut’s healing process, we recommend adding probiotics, apple cider vinegar, bone broth, and fermentable foods (e.g., sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombucha) to your daily meal plan. These foods are rich in nutrients, fibre, and beneficial bacteria that can help improve your gut health as well as your immune system.
Interestingly, the good bacteria that are present in probiotics and fermented foods can help digest complex carbohydrates that your body uses for energy. Some bacterial strains like the Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus may help alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
If your lactose intolerance is a symptom of a more serious condition, ask your doctor what types of probiotic strains would work best for you.
5. Slowly Reintroduce Dairy.
After six months, start reintroducing dairy products gradually into your diet until you are able to tolerate it. Individuals with lactose intolerance can generally handle 12g of lactose without experiencing bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or other symptoms. And these symptoms don’t usually occur until you have consumed at least 6g of lactose.
For this reason, we recommend starting with two tablespoons of yoghurt, since it contains plenty of digestive enzymes and less lactose, allowing your gut to digest it easily. Studies have also shown that the bacterial strains in yoghurt actually break down lactose for food. This means that the longer your yoghurt stays on your fridge, the higher the chance that these bacterial strains have consumed most of the lactose, leaving very few left by the time you eat it.
If these small portions of dairy are not causing any flare-ups, you can eventually work up to two small servings of dairy per week. Add another tablespoon every three days until you are consuming a regular serving size again. Remember to eat dairy in moderation to avoid running the risk of irritating your gut’s intestinal lining again. Also, make sure that you keep a few lactase enzyme tablets on hand in case you’re tempted to eat more than you’re supposed to.
When your gut is healed, it means you are no longer confined to living a lactose-free life. It also means that you gained a deeper understanding of how your body works, what it can tolerate and what its limits are. This will pave the way for you to eat your favourite dairy products again in moderation.
Many other digestive disorders can trigger symptoms similar to lactose intolerance, such as milk allergy, IBS, SIBO, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or overuse of laxatives. That’s why we advise getting a proper diagnosis first from your trusted healthcare provider to lower your risk for misdiagnosis.
Need Our Help?
Book an appointment with an accredited dietitian or nutritionist by phone on (07) 3071-7405 between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday or send us an enquiry. Alternatively, find out how we can help you manage your lactose intolerance.
- NIH consensus development conference statement: Lactose intolerance and health. – NCBI
- Adaptation to Lactose in Lactase Non Persistent People: Effects on Intolerance and the Relationship between Dairy Food Consumption and Evalution of Diseases – NCBI
- 7 Best Dairy Alternatives for Lactose Intolerance – New Life Nutrition
- 10 Diet Tips For Lactose Intolerance – New Life Nutrition
- Training Your Body to Digest Lactose – International Milk Genomics Consortium
- Lactose Intolerance FAQ – HealthDay
- The Only Way to “Cure” Lactose Intolerance – Patient’s Lounge