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If I am Lactose Intolerant, Does that mean I am Sensitive to Dairy?

A question I get a lot in practice is, “if I am lactose intolerant does that mean I am also sensitive to dairy?” The answer is no. You both will be eliminating dairy from your diet, but for very different reasons. Lactose Intolerance is having an enzyme deficiency.

Lactase is an enzyme your body makes to break down lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in milk, and is converted into energy to fuel the body. There is no immune response present. You may experience bloating, increased gas, diarrhea or constipation, abdominal cramps, nausea and sometimes vomiting[1].

Doctors will prescribe synthetic lactase that should be taken before eating dairy1. Synthetic Lactase will help your body break down lactose and the symptoms disappear. Some doctors will prescribe having small amounts of dairy often throughout the day to try and increase the amount of natural lactase in the body1. Alternatively, you can avoid dairy.  This is the best treatment, in my opinion. Your body stopped making the enzyme because, it decided it no longer needed to make it. You stopped drinking breast milk, and the body responded by decreasing the amount of lactase. Reduced lactose products shouldn’t cause an episode in a lactose intolerant person; but those products are processed and not something I would recommend on a regular basis. There are plenty of other sources of calcium and probiotics that are not dairy.  Examples of calcium sources are white beans, salmon, sardines, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables and oranges[2]. Probiotics are found in Fermented foods such as kimchi, and pickles

Dairy Sensitivity is an immune response to the proteins in dairy; typically Casein, or Whey. The body has decided that the dairy proteins are harmful and has launched an attack. The attack consist of IgG Antibodies that bind to the dairy proteins leading to a cascade effect in the body.  The cascade causes inflammation in the intestines. The inflammation in your intestines are what causes the problem. You can get various symptoms from Dairy sensitivity. The main symptoms I see in my practice from dairy sensitivity are: acne, chronic ear infections, excess mucus production, gas/bloating, diarrhea, cancer and auto immune diseases.

SO… Lactose Intolerance is a lack of an enzyme, and Dairy sensitivity is an immune response. Dairy Sensitivities lead to increased inflammation in the body. Prolonged increased Inflammation in the body has been link to autoimmune diseases and cancers[3]. Following a dairy free diet is very important if you have a dairy sensitivity. It is important to make the difference between the conditions. Book an Appointment with your health care provider if you have personal questions.


[1] Lactose Intolerance. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 28, 2019. Updated 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lactose-intolerance/symptoms-causes/syc-20374232.

[2] 18 Surprising sources of Dairy-free Calcium. Schwecherl, L. Greatist. Retrieved April 28, 2019. Updated 2019.  https://greatist.com/health/18-surprising-dairy-free-sources-calcium.

[3] Multiple Associations Between a Broad Spectrum of Autoimmune Disease, Chronic Inflammatory Disease and Cancer. Franks, E.L, and Slansky, A.E. Anticancer Res. 2012 Apr; 32(4): 1119–1136.

Retrieved Online and provided here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3349285/