Eric Bakker N.D.May 25, 2022

Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase in the body. Abdominal cramps, bloating, and diarrhoea are common symptoms. The treatment centres on avoiding dairy products, switching to lactose-free foods, or using lactase supplements.


Lactose Intolerance 

A black and white Friesian cowLactose intolerant is a common occurrence for many. Lactose is the primary sugar found in milk and is a disaccharide (a double sugar molecule) comprising one molecule of glucose and one molecule of galactose. With age, many children lose their ability to digest the large amounts of lactose found in cow’s milk, leading to condition called lactose intolerance. This ‘milk sugar’ lurks around the bowel, escaping digestion and causing much digestive upset.
Although this condition is not much of a concern, it may well lead to intolerance towards milk, an important food for many. The action of lactase (the enzyme which breaks lactose down in the small intestine) occurs at a maximum level from birth through early childhood. The activity then declines to only about 5-10% by the age of 5 on average.
We relate many of the gastrointestinal problems caused by milk consumption to the digestion of lactose. When a person with lactose intolerance consumes milk or other dairy products, some or all of the lactose remains undigested, keeps fluid and ferments in the large intestine, resulting in the gas, bloating and abdominal cramping. Symptoms range greatly and occur from ½ to 2hrs after consumption of dairy foods.
Lactose digests less rapidly than most other carbohydrates, and can only be digested in the lactase’s presence. Many persons, especially those of Asian descent, are incapable of manufacturing lactase. In the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan and Peru they have found that over 70 percent of the population is lactose intolerant. They have found similar findings amongst the American Negro population and the Australian aboriginal people.
Lactose intolerance can occur because of a gastrointestinal disorder that damages the lining of the digestive tract such as coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or a condition such as ulcerative colitis.

Should I Drink Or Should I Avoid Cow’s Milk?

Writing an article about whether milk is a suitable addition to one’s diet, is like writing about whether cell phone usage is OK for your health, it is hotly debated, emotionally charged, and often with conflicting reports from many instant experts. It makes more sense to me to look at the science behind the health problems that milk and dairy produce cause, and then to make up your own mind.
Whilst in my practice I see health problems related to milk consumption virtually daily. I also know of many people who regularly drink and tolerate milk and dairy products well. Milk literally has the reputation of being the devil of dairy, it still is a good food for those who can tolerate it.
Most people can tolerate small to moderate amounts of cheese and butter well, but start noticing digestive problems, particularly once cow’s milk is consumed regularly. Note I said small to moderate amounts. Highly concentrated sources of dairy sugars and proteins include cheese, butter, cream and chocolate, and in my experience of living in New Zealand for the past twenty four years, is that dairy products are consumed in amounts far too large for the average person’s digestive and immune systems to cope with.
According to Fonterra, New Zealanders consume 400 million litres of milk each year. They sell 190 two litre bottles of milk every minute in New Zealand supermarkets. New Zealand has the 3rd highest consumption of fresh white milk per capita in the world.

Quit Milk For 12 Weeks If You Have Any Gut Problem

a man with a bloated stomachIt is not uncommon in a natural medicine practice to find someone who has had an ongoing bowel or digestive problem for many years, which corrects itself within three months of (an entirely) dairy-free diet. Do you have some any constipation or diarrhoea, and consume liquid cow’s milk, even if it is only ½ cup per day? In my clinic, you’ll soon be told to give milk and dairy a spell for a while, up to 3 months to see if any changes with your bowel occur. This is, of course, after you’ve decided on quitting take-away foods and alcohol for the same time period.
Over the years, I’ve had many clients who decided on not going back to milk consumption, after clearing a bowel, digestive or sinus problem they have had for many years. I can remember one lady who had exploratory surgery to her bowel, and another man who had two sinus operations for a deviated septum. In both cases their immune systems could not tolerate dairy proteins. You can read all about sinusitis here and sinusitis treatment here.

Lactose Intolerance Or A Milk Allergy?

It is more common to encounter a dairy allergy in the clinic than true lactose intolerance. I’ve also had patients come to me who were diagnosed with lactose intolerance, when it turned out to be a milk protein (casein) allergy, verified by blood testing.
Some health care professionals diagnose ‘irritable bowel syndrome’ in patients, who may well be lactose intolerant of suffer from a dairy or other food allergy. Confused yet? Lactose intolerance is an intolerance, a lack of the enzyme called lactase, while a milk allergy is an allergy, an immune-mediated response towards a milk protein called beta casein.
While it is possible to see people with a milk allergy who have a bowel problem, I always suspect lactose intolerance with bloating, flatus, cramping pains and diarrhoea, which happens shortly after milk consumption, especially cramping in the stomach followed by diarrhoea.This can be worse for some people who eat a bowl of (ice cold) ice cream.
And, how many patients have I seen that stop dairy products on recommendation and forget that chocolate is actually a type of dairy product? Most chocolate I’ve seen contain milk solids.
OK, so you may think about these two things. How come Eric put this article in the “Allergy” section of his website, and why would the title of this article be “Lactose Intolerance Is Common” when he just said that it is less common than a dairy allergy? Well, the reason being, many people don’t know the difference between allergies and intolerances, often confusingly interchange them.
Many medical doctors, naturopaths, and dieticians, for example, get confused as well. And then this information gets regurgitated ALL over Google, making it the “gospel” soon.
You can read my article entitled Food Allergy Or Food Intolerance which will clearly explain in great detail the differences between the two. To answer your second question, many commonly believe they are lactose intolerant, when in fact they have a dairy allergy.
It is not that often in the clinic that we see children who suffer from true lactose intolerance. Kids and adults with lactose intolerance are out there, but they are in smaller numbers to those who suffer from a milk protein allergy.
Cow’s milk contains over sixty different proteins, many of which are partially digested and potentially harmful to many people’s immune systems; ample research now exists to validate this statement. I find it more common to encounter a child on cow’s milk with constipation than diarrhoea.
However, if the child has diarrhoea or a loose bowel whilst on a diet containing milk, check also to see if the child is eating beef (cow) and lamb. Both of these two animal protein foods are best avoided as it is not uncommon for a parent to remove milk from a child’s diet, whilst allowing them to consume beef.
It is worth bearing this in mind that they both come from the same animal. I follow the recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1990, that all infants under one year of age not receive whole cow’s milk at all, period. Difficult approach, because these days it is so much more difficult for the average mother to breast feed her child  for this period for many reasons.
What never ceases to amaze me in clinical practice is that how often some allergy-prone children show dramatic improvements in their ability to concentrate with decreased hyperactivity, the moment we eliminate dairy products from the diet. This will be even more clear when you supplement the child at the same time with Omega-3 fish oil for at least three months. After making these recommendations for decades, our clinic’s success was based on such seeming impossible results
Use an omega-3 formula high in DHA, and please, also give your child a good quality children’s multi vitamin & mineral complex. Your health food shop or naturopath can guide you here. Try this DHA and multivitamin approach for 3 months. Unless your child is on “the best” diet, he or she will improve that much, you’ll understand. With the current state of the world (2023), I’ll guarantee that “best” diets for children are few and far between. Try it, it could make all the difference, and give your precious child that missing piece of their amazing jigsaw puzzle, like vitamin D, they were lacking. Vitamin D deficiency is common in children, leading them down the path of poor immune function.

Galactose And Ovarian Cancer  

 Another milk sugar, called galactose, may even be a problem for women who are not deficient in lactase. You may recall, galactose combines with glucose to form lactose. A Harvard University study in 1989 concluded that galactose may be responsible for the 300% higher incidence of ovarian cancer in women who consume dairy products. It also implicated excessive consumption of galactose in the development and progression of cataracts.

About 10% of the population lacks the enzyme to metabolise galactose. Apparently, the problem with galactose is that you can’t tell whether you lack the enzyme to break this sugar down, unlike lactose intolerance, in which there are clear signs of digestive upset causing symptoms such as bloating, cramping and diarrhoea. Yogurt, cheese, and other more highly fermented dairy products are the richest sources of galactose.

Lactose Intolerant Recommendations

Avoid All Milk And Dairy Products

Try rice milk instead. Soy is suspect with many individuals and goat’s milk may be a problem too. Try to avoid for several months, then re-introduce small amounts of dairy and see what happens.

Symptoms Of Celiac Disease And Lactose Intolerance Are Similar

and the two conditions may even occur together. A biopsy of the small intestine will reveal whether the person has coeliac’s disease, and the most definitive way to diagnose lactose intolerance is a hydrogen breath test.

Yoghurt May Be Acceptable For Some People

because of the pre-digested lactose (lactic acid) content. Be sure to only eat small quantities, and only consume yoghurt that contains live active cultures.

Calcium Supplementation, Balanced With Magnesium

may be necessary if you avoid dairy.Try dried figs, broccoli, almonds, sardines (bones), molasses, tofu, sesame seeds, etc.

Careful With Your Pharmaceutical Drugs

check with your pharmacist, many contain lactose as a filler!

Read Food Labels Carefully

avoid any foods containing ‘milk solids’. One patient’s 1yr old daughter with eczema was not responding to a change in diet, in fact, her eczema was getting worse on a goat’s milk formula. They found the formula to contain goat’s milk powder, along with ‘milk solids’, which turned out to be from the cow!

Hard, Aged Cheeses Like Parmesan Are Lower In Lactose

and may be one of the easiest dairy products to tolerate. Again, please use in moderation.

Lactobacillus Is Beneficial For Those With Lactose Intolerance.

Friendly bacteria may facilitate the digestion of dietary lactose. Lactobacillus bacteria allow lactase-deficient individuals to avoid some of the more unpleasant effects of lactose accumulation associated with lactase deficiency, because lactobacillus prevents the accumulation of lactose by fermenting the milk products that contain lactose and causing the conversion of lactose to lactic acid.

They found lactic acid in many fermented milk products, such as yoghurt. Lactose is often fermented commercially to the more readily digestible lactic acid, through bacteria such as Streptococcus.


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