Does lactose intolerance affect calcium absorption?

One of the common concerns of individuals with lactose intolerance is whether they are getting enough calcium from their diet. Does having lactose intolerance affect your body’s absorption of this nutrient?

Scientific studies have shown mixed results at best. Nevertheless, individuals with this type of food intolerance can still maximise their calcium intake by applying some nutritional and lifestyle changes. 

Benefits of calcium 

Calcium is an important mineral which helps your body perform many of its functions. Here are calcium’s top benefits: 

  1. Strengthens bones. There’s no question that this is calcium’s most well-known benefit. Calcium also maintains the proper shape of your bones and keeps osteoporosis and arthritis at bay.
  1. Protects teeth. Calcium strengthens your jaw bones which, in turn, ensures proper fitting of your teeth. It also helps keep bacteria from accumulating in your teeth.
  1. Regulates blood pressure. Calcium allows your blood vessels to tighten and relax as needed, making it an important nutrient for maintaining a healthy blood pressure. 
  1. Prevents cancer. Calcium stunts polyp growth, which is a possible precursor to cancer. 
  1. Improves cardiovascular function. Calcium helps your heart muscles contract and relax as they should. 

Does my lactose intolerance affect my ability to absorb calcium?

Different studies have shown different results regarding lactose intolerance and its impact on calcium absorption.

The findings of one study surprisingly showed that individuals with lactose intolerance absorbed calcium better than their lactose-tolerant counterparts when they consumed lactose as a dairy ingredient. 

However, another study showed a completely different result. It revealed that lactose—the main carbohydrate in milk and dairy products—induced calcium malabsorption in the lactose-intolerant subjects 20 to 25% of the time. This was caused by lactose’s osmotic effects, which reduce the effective concentration of calcium in the bowel.

A third study concluded both dietary lactose and lactase deficiency—the usual cause of lactose intolerancedon’t have a major effect on calcium absorption among adult subjects.  

How can people with lactose intolerance get enough calcium?

If you’re lactose intolerant and are concerned about a possible calcium deficiency, don’t fret! You can still get your much-needed calcium fix by making some changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Vitamin D helps maximise your calcium absorption. Without ample supply of vitamin D, your body will consume calcium from your bones, weakening them in the process. Eggs, salmon, fish oil, liver, and some cereals are good sources of vitamin D. If you cannot get enough of this vitamin from whole foods, consider taking a reputable vitamin D supplement instead.  

You can also obtain calcium from many whole foods. The good thing about these foods is they have no lactose, and thus, are very unlikely to trigger your symptoms.

  • Soy milk
  • Tofu
  • Dried and pinto beans 
  • Brazil nuts and almonds
  • Oranges
  • Broccoli
  • Collard greens
  • Turnip greens and mustard greens
  • Sardines, salmon, mackerel, and tuna
  • Canned oysters
  • Blackstrap molasses

Calcium and the lactose-intolerant lifestyle 

There’s no denying the importance of calcium in one’s diet, regardless of whether one is lactose intolerant or not. However, findings on how lactose intolerance affects calcium absorption remain mixed and conflicting. 

Nonetheless, you can still optimise your calcium intake by taking vitamin D supplements and eating naturally lactose-free, whole-food sources of calcium. Consistently doing these will allow you to reap calcium’s benefits without the digestive discomfort associated with lactose intolerance. 

Need our help?

If you need assistance with your lactose intolerance, give us a call at (07) 3071-7405 between 8am and 6pm on weekdays to schedule an appointment with one of our accredited nutritionists or dietitians. Alternatively, you can send us an enquiry and we will get back to you as soon as possible.