If you’ve noticed something is off with your stomach after you consume any of your fave dairy delicacies, chances are you’re struggling with lactose intolerance and it’s time to straighten out your ailing gut. Around 65 percent of the world’s population deals with lactose intolerance, and as a part of that percentage, I can tell you that lactose intolerance sucks. But once you figure out how to read your body and avoid certain foods, dealing with it isn’t so hard.
Although there are a few different types of lactose intolerance, primary lactose intolerance is the most common. In this case, as you grow older, your body stops producing lactase enzymes, causing your intestine to struggle to digest dairy. If you’re Asian, Native American, Black or Latino, there’s a very high chance that you’ll experience primary lactose intolerance in your lifetime (sorry, guys). In fact, 15 percent of Northern Europeans — aka all my ancestors — are also afflicted. At least we’re all in this together, right?
So how do you know if you lack the enzyme to break down dairy? Here are five major symptoms of lactose intolerance to look out for next time you sidle up to that hunky chunk of cheese you’ve been eyeing at your local deli.
Picture, if you will, a crowded Olive Garden circa 2009. My family congregated there to share a celebratory meal before attending my mom’s super important art opening. I celebrated my love of cheese and pasta by ordering the Fettuccine Alfredo. We had just received the bill when all of the sudden I felt as though I was about to die or spontaneously give birth.
Lactose intolerance can cause mild to severe abdominal cramping depending on what you consume. They can act up as soon as you finish eating, or can join the party a couple hours after the meal. For me, heavy, cream sauces leave me in a fetal position about a half hour after consumption. And lactose intolerance cramps will differ than your normal menstrual cramps. Rather than that annoying dull ache, these will most likely be sharper and will usually be the headliner for the following symptoms.
We all bloat after eating — except if you’re Megan from Bridesmaids. But otherwise, food babies are real! The difference between regular bloating after eating or menstrual bloating, and bloating from lactose intolerance is that lactose intolerance bloating usually comes hand-in-hand with any or all of the other symptoms listed here. It also might feel like that scene from Alien — but don’t freak out!
This bloating will be uncomfortable and you’ll most likely notice that your stomach is grumbling or gurgling. There’s not a whole lot you can do when you experience bloating from lactose intolerance. Once the dairy passes through your digestive system, the bloat will go away. Sit tight, massage your stomach, and make a mental note that milk is not your friend anymore.
Yeah, it’s not pretty to talk about and it’s definitely not pretty to experience. But when you are plagued with diarrhea after eating a dairy-heavy meal, that’s a tried-and-true sign of lactose intolerance. You’ll most likely be warned by those abdominal cramps before it hits, so don’t ignore them. They are very important signs!
Diarrhea is also a medical condition you really want to get straightened out before it turns into a chronic illness. It can cause severe dehydration, so make sure you’re supplementing fluids lost by drinking plenty of water. You can easily take an anti-diarrheal medication, but don’t use those medicines as a crutch to continue to eat dairy. They can be just as problematic as diarrhea if used too often. Instead, consider quitting dairy.
Here’s another not-so-flattering symptom of being lactose intolerant. If you’re lucky to dodge diarrhea, you still might be experiencing some serious gas issues. Flatulence and belching is literally your body’s way of yelling at you, saying, “Why did you eat that Fettuccine Alfredo! You are ruining the trust we have!”
Once again, gas is usually accompanied by bloating. Cramps are no stranger to a gas-related party either. And of course, gas is a natural part of being a human. But lactose intolerance-induced gas is usually uncomfortable in that it can cause your gut to grumble and gurgle. Plus, it sticks around for a while after you eat. Not fun for you, or your friends and family. Sorry, everyone.
Nausea isn’t necessarily a common symptom of lactose intolerance. I myself don’t experience it. But hey, lactose intolerance can cause all of the above symptoms, then nausea certainly isn’t out of the equation!
If you’re experiencing nausea due to consuming dairy, drink water and rest. It’ll take some time for the food you ate to move through your intestine, so be patient. Each ailment is a lesson learned!
These symptoms are tell-tale signs of being unable to process dairy. Try to wean yourself off of dairy products. Replace milk and coffee creamers for soy milk or dairy-free alternatives. Avoid soft and processed cheeses altogether. My doctor told me that aged, hard cheeses are easier for the small intestine to process, so if you’re a cheese-whiz like me, there’s hope for us yet.
But if you need confirmation that you are lactose intolerant, visit your doctor to get tested. According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor can run several tests to determine your lactose intolerance.
There you might find out that you’re not lactose intolerance, but have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or Irritable Bowel Disease) or are gluten intolerant. You also want to visit your doctor to make sure you’re not experiencing symptoms of a more severe disease like Crohn’s or celiac.
Lactose intolerance isn’t fun, but it’s really manageable. A lot of the population struggle with it, so we’re definitely not alone. Learn how your body reacts to certain dairy products, and keep track of the foods you consume. Once you and dairy come to some sort of agreement, I guarantee you’ll feel a lot better.