Lactose Intolerance And Its Symptoms

Lactose is the sugar naturally present in milk and dairy products. Lactose intolerance is a fairly widespread condition, which manifests itself with symptoms such as flatulence, bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation. Incontinence pads can be used to help manage some of these symptoms if you have an underlying faecal incontinence condition.

An estimated 70% of the adult population suffers from lactose intolerance. A condition which is caused by  the absence or deficiency of the lactase enzyme, which has the purpose of breaking down lactose into two simple sugars, galactose and glucose, so as to allow their absorption in the intestine.

When the lactase enzyme is deficient or absent, lactose cannot be split into the two simplest sugars, and since it cannot be absorbed by the intestine, it ferments, causing the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

women refusing glass of milk

Lactose intolerance: diagnostic test

Lactose intolerance is not a serious condition, however the symptoms experienced by the person suffering from it can be very annoying and sometimes even disabling, for this reason it is essential to avoid self-diagnosis and always seek medical attention.

The symptoms of lactose intolerance can be very similar to those caused by other conditions such as gluten intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome; differential diagnosis is therefore essential for the resolution of symptoms, although it is not uncommon for a subject to experience gluten and lactose intolerance at the same time.

The most used test to diagnose lactose intolerance is the hydrogen breath test.It is a non-invasive test that allows medical professionals to detect the amount of hydrogen in the exhaled air, after having administered lactose to a subject with suspected intolerance.

This test is based on the principle that if a sugar is not absorbed and therefore ferments in the intestine, it produces hydrogen which is partly absorbed by the colon and partly is eliminated through the breath.

This compares the percentage of hydrogen released before and after administering a solution containing lactose at a certain concentration.

Lactose intolerance: what not to eat

Different Dairy Products

In the case of lactose intolerance, the only solution to eliminate the symptoms is to have a lactose-free or low-lactose diet, depending on how much the person can tolerate.

The tolerance level depends on the amount of lactase enzyme present in the body.In general the list below are best to be avoided if you have  lactose intolerance:


In cases of lactose intolerance, giving up milk on your morning cerealcan be a big sacrifice; however there are many lactose-free milk alternatives now available that contain only a very small amount of lactose and are generally well tolerated by lactose intolerant people.. Milk can be replaced with a vegetable drink made from soy, rice, oats or coconut which are generally enriched with calcium and vitamins.


Even cheeses, being derived from milk, contain lactose; the percentage of lactose  varies according to the type of cheese. Soft cheeses such as Brie or Camenbert  contain higher lactose levels, while hard cheeses contain a lower percentage. 36 months aged Parmesan is naturally lactose free.

Bread and other baked goods

These often contain lactose, therefore before buying them always  read the label carefully and check for its presence.

Breakfast cereals

Breakfast cereals often contain lactose, therefore pay attention to the label!

Pre-cooked meats, and sausages

Pre cooked meats and sausages often contain lactose, but are also  available in the lactose-free variant; therefore always read the label carefully or ask specifically for lactose-free sausages at the counter.

Various frozen foods

Various frozen foods can contain lactose, so always read the label.

A lactose free diet  can be difficult to follow as this sugar is present in many unsuspected foods such as onions, broccoli, eggs and pears, in some drugs and in many food supplements and, as we have seen, in many packaged products.

Today, thanks to the wide availability of lactose-free products on the market, it is possible to live with this problem, without making big sacrifices, simply by paying a little more attention to what you buy.

Your GP may refer you to see a dietician if you are lactose intolerant for further support and advice to ensure that you are eating a well-balanced diet.

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