Can You Outgrow Lactose Intolerance?

Being lactose intolerant means that you cannot digest the milk sugar (lactose) in dairy products and while the problem is not serious, the symptoms can be uncomfortable. Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency of lactase-an enzyme produced by the cells lining your small intestine, which breaks down the lactase molecules in the foods you eat into two sugars, glucose and galactose. The sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream. Not everyone with a lactase deficiency will develop digestive problems, but those that do may be lactose intolerant.

Symptoms You May Be Lactose Intolerant

You may begin to notice signs of lactose intolerance between 30 minutes and two hours after eating or drinking milk and milk products. Some common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramping
  • Stomach bloating
  • Gas

If you're concerned about any of these symptoms, see your doctor. Because the signs of lactose intolerance are similar to those for other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, your doctor may recommend tests to determine the exact cause of your problems. Two common diagnostic tests include a hydrogen breath test in which the patient drinks a lactose-laced beverage and then her breath is analyzed to measure the amount of hydrogen and a stool acidity test, which is used for infants and children to measure the amount of acid in their stool.

Finding Relief

While lactose intolerance can't be cured or outgrown, sufferers can find relief from the symptoms of the disorder by eliminating or reducing the amount of dairy products in their diet and using over-the-counter lactase enzyme drops or tablets, which make digesting milk products easier. Ask your doctor or registered dietitian for help in planning a diet that avoids dairy products without sacrificing the valuable amount of calcium and vitamin D in those foods. For example, switching to other calcium and vitamin D-rich sources such as:

  • Almonds
  • Broccoli
  • Calcium-fortified products like breads and juices
  • Milk substitutes such as soy milk and rice milk
  • Pinto beans
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Tofu

These tips may also help:

  • Drink small servings of milk, up to four ounces at a time. Having smaller servings reduces the chance you'll experience gastrointestinal problems.
  • Drink milk with other foods to slow the digestive process, which may reduce symptoms.
  • Try an assortment of dairy foods to determine which ones are problematic for you. For example, hard cheeses like Swiss and Cheddar contain small amounts of lactose and may not cause a problem for you.