Lactose intolerance is a common condition that occurs when the digestive system is unable to completely digest lactose, the specific type of sugar found in milk and milk products. As a result of this, if a person who is lactose intolerant takes dairy, they experience a wide range of symptoms usually within a few hours of consumption.
Some of the most common symptoms associated with lactose intolerance include bloating, diarrhea, stomach cramps, excessive flatulence (gas in the stomach) as well as a general sickly feeling. The severity of these symptoms is often dependent on the amount of lactose ingested. Some individuals may be able to consume small amounts of dairy without any severe symptoms, while others may not even be able to take yogurt.
While lactose intolerance is often harmless, its range of symptoms causes great discomfort. Research shows that low amounts of lactase in the digestive system are to blame for the condition. Lactase is the enzyme that is responsible for the breaking down of milk to lactose so that it is absorbed with ease in the digestive system. In the absence of this enzyme, lactose passes through the colon undigested, resulting in the aforementioned symptoms.
The good news is that there are a number of home remedies available for the natural management of lactose intolerance. It is important, however, to get medical diagnosis as the symptoms of lactose intolerance may be an indication of an underlying disease such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (abbreviated IBS).
While there is no specific cure for this condition, the home remedies mentioned below help deal with the symptoms and provide much-needed relief. In line with this, the time-tested solution to this management involves avoiding or limiting intake of dairy and dairy products. Take note however, that lactose may be present even in foods that are not typically dairy. These include cereals, crepes and cream soups among others.
NOTE: Lactose intolerance must not be confused with an allergy to milk. Food allergies, and indeed allergic reactions to milk consumption involve the immune system’s reaction to the presence of dairy in the body. The symptoms of an allergic reaction to milk include, but are not limited to intense itching, wheezing and skin rash.
1. Identify Your Lactose Threshold:
Time Required: Varies from one person to another.
What You Need: Food guide that indicates the amount of lactose in a specific food item.
Lactose threshold, by definition, refers to the amount of lactose that one can take before their symptoms manifest. This is an important aspect in the home management of lactose intolerance because the threshold levels vary from one person to another. To put this in perspective, person A may be able to take 2 glasses of milk after which, any more milk will cause the symptoms to appear. Person B on the other hand, may only be able to take 1/2 a glasses of milk after which the symptoms will fare up. The threshold levels for the two are 2 glasses and half a glass respectively.
It is important to add, at this point, that research studies carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) shows that many people who are lactose intolerant are, on average, able to take up to 12 grams of lactose at a go, particularly when the source of dairy is accompanied with other foods. This must only be used as a guide because this value varies among individuals. In line with this, use the tips below to help find your lactose threshold for the natural management of lactose intolerance.
Tips on How to Find and Use your Lactose Threshold:
- To assess your intolerance levels, you first need to steer clear of all lactose for a period of a month. This is key because it helps in eliminating traces of lactose in the body.
- After a month, work on re-introducing small amounts of milk and monitor the onset of symptoms.
- Start by taking 1/4 glass of milk for a couple of days, and gradually increase this amount as the days go by.
- Determine the amount of lactose that you can take without any of the symptoms manifesting. The value you get is your lactose threshold. As mentioned above, there are great variations from one person to another, so this is a very personalized remedy.
- In addition to finding your threshold levels, it is also important to choose small servings of dairy products in the event that these do not cause digestive problems.
2. Cheese and Yogurt:
Time Required: Varies among individuals.
What You Need: Probiotic yogurt and full-fat cheese.
Depending on your lactose threshold levels, you may be able to take milk products as these generally have a lower amount of lactose, and therefore do not trigger the full blown symptoms of the condition. As a general guide, full-fat options are preferable because they typically contain less lactose when compared to their low-fat options. Additionally, the full-fat variety is preferred because the presence of fat allows for the slow passage of lactose in the digestive tract. Consequently, there is a delayed onset of the symptoms, and even when they do manifest, they tend to be minimal.
Consider adding probiotic yogurt to your diet. This is a type of yogurt that is rich in live cultures. Live cultures are simply bacterial populations whose function is similar to that of natural bacteria found in the gut. These bacterial populations play a key role because they aid in the breakdown of lactose so that it passes through the intestines without causing discomfort. Cheese on the other hand, is recommended simply because it has low levels of lactose. It may be consumed in varying amounts depending on one’s lactose threshold levels.
- Take probiotic yogurt at least once daily. Greek yogurt is also recommended because it contains lower levels of lactose. During its production, whey protein is eliminated from the yogurt and this ensures there’s very little lactose.
- Add the yogurt to salads or cereals for a refreshing bowl of healthy goodness.
- Some of the cheese options recommended include Swiss cheese, aged cheddar cheese as well as full-fat cottage cheese.
3. Add Healthy Milk Substitutes:
Time Required: Varies depending on the source of non-dairy milk.
What You Need: Healthy milk substitutes.
For those with low lactose threshold levels, it helps to look for healthy substitutes to use in place of dairy milk. Some of the most popular options include soy milk, oat milk, hemp milk and almond milk. Rice milk is also a popular milk substitute, and may prove beneficial for persons affected by lactose intolerance. In addition to these substitutes, it helps to swap butter for plant-based options. Butter is a dairy product which may cause abdominal discomfort for those who are lactose intolerant. Coconut oil is a perfect substitute for butter. Follow the tips below to get the most of milk substitutes.
Tips for Using Milk Substitutes:
- Depending on one’s tolerance levels and personal preferences, any of the substitutes may be used in place of milk. The best way to go about this is to add the substitutes in place of milk in different foods such as puddings and pastries. If there is no discomfort or reaction, you may consider taking the milk substitutes in their natural form.
- Start small and gradually increase the amounts of the milk substitutes to as much as is comfortable.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar:
Time Required: 5 Min
What You Need: 2 Teaspoons of apple cider vinegar and a glass of warm water.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is one of the best natural remedies for the management of conditions affecting the digestive system. When used for lactose intolerance, the ACV helps with the digestion and breakdown of the lactose. Additionally, it helps reduce bloating in the stomach. The guide to using ACV is to make sure that the solution is diluted. Used in its raw form, ACV may cause irritation of the digestive system. Water is added to retain its healing properties in a form that does not cause irritation.
- Place two teaspoons of Apple cider vinegar in a glass and pour in the warm water.
- Stir to mix the two and drink.
- Use this remedy at least thrice daily to alleviate the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
5. Lactase Supplements:
Time Required: 5 Min
What You Need: Lactase supplements.
Lactase supplements, just as the name suggests, are tablets that are used to increase the levels of lactase in the body. When this amount is increased, the body is better placed to breakdown lactose so that there is a significant reduction in the symptoms presented. To get the most benefits from these supplements, it is recommended that they are taken during mealtimes, particularly with foods that contain lactose. Follow the simple steps below to use lactase supplements effectively.
NOTE: Lactase supplements are not recommended for children and expectant women. Additionally, their efficiency varies from one person to another.
- Take 2 tablets of the lactase supplements just before consuming foods that have lactose.
- Alternatively, add a lactase supplement to half a liter of milk and then drink immediately.
6. A Balanced Diet:
Time Required: Varies depending on the specific foods.
What You Need: A balanced diet with calcium-rich foods.
One of the biggest concerns for people who suffer from lactose-intolerance is how to maintain calcium levels in the body seeing as milk is a key source of calcium. The good news is that the reduction of dairy and dairy products in one’s diet does not necessarily mean that one cannot get adequate calcium. By taking a balanced diet and increasing the intake of foods rich in Calcium, the body is able to get enough nutrients. In doing so, it also helps to take enough Vitamin D as this is one of the key nutrients found in fortified milk. Listed below are great foods to include in one’s diet and make up for the deficiency of Calcium and Vitamin D.
- Food sources that are rich in Calcium include spinach, oranges, broccoli and salmon. Some milk substitutes also have a high concentration of Calcium, most notably rice milk and soy milk.
- Some of the foods that are rich in Vitamin D include liver, eggs and yogurt. Exposure to natural sunlight is also important as it helps the body synthesize Vitamin D.
7. Fennel Seeds:
Time Required: 15 Min
What You Need: 1 Teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1 glass of hot water and a strainer.
Use fennel seeds to manage the symptoms of lactose intolerance once they manifest. The seeds’ active ingredients help reduce abdominal discomfort by eliminating the excessive flatulence, which is one of the condition’s main symptoms. Fennel seeds also have anti-inflammatory properties that work on reducing the pain experienced. You may either chew on the seeds or prepare fennel tea when preparing this remedy.
- Add one teaspoon of the fennel seeds to a glass containing hot water and let the seeds steep for 10 minutes.
- Strain the tea and drink it thrice daily.
- Alternatively, chew on the fennel seeds after taking a meal containing lactose.
8. Raw Ginger:
Time Required: 20 Min
What You Need: Raw ginger, a grater, a glass of hot drinking water and lemon juice. 1 teaspoon of raw organic honey (optional)
Add raw ginger to your arsenal of home remedies for the natural management of lactose intolerance. Ginger is excellent at relieving gastrointestinal discomfort that typically arises from the body’s inability to digest lactose. This remedy is also excellent at relieving gas build-up and reducing the pain associated with the condition. Prepare ginger tea by following the steps listed below. You may add honey to act as a natural sweetener as raw ginger has a very distinct taste.
- Peel and clean the raw ginger then proceed to grate it. Grating increases the surface area for the release of the active ingredients, making the remedy more effective.
- Transfer the grated ginger to the glass of hot water.
- Let the ginger steep for 10 minutes and then stir in the lemon juice and honey.
- Take this ginger tea thrice daily to easily manage lactose intolerance.
9. Herbal Teas:
Time Required: 15 Min
What You Need: Choice herbal teabag such as peppermint or chamomile and 1 cup of hot water. Honey (optional).
Herbal teas are recommended for the natural treatment of lactose intolerance for two reasons. The first is that they are not prepared using milk, and the second is that they have excellent healing properties. Chamomile tea for instance, is rich in tannins that reduce the pain and inflammation in the stomach, while neutralizing the stomach acid to provide relief. Peppermint tea on the other hand, helps soothe the irritated stomach. Peppermint is also rich in menthol which has a positive effect on the digestive tract.
- Take your preferred teabag and steep it in hot water for 5 minutes.
- Add the honey and stir the tea before drinking.
- Take these herbal teas thrice daily to help treat lactose intolerance naturally.
Cumin seeds are also an excellent option for lactose intolerant persons. In addition to these remedies, it is very important to check product labels as processed foods may contain lactose. Common foods in this category include salad dressings, breads, candies, chocolates and breakfast cereals.