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Can you become lactose intolerant as an adult?

Food By Rachel Murugi
Lactose intolerance is caused by having too little of an enzyme called lactase (Photo: Shutterstock)

Lactose intolerance, also known as lactose malabsorption, is caused by having too little of an enzyme called lactase. This enzyme is produced in the small intestine. If you are lactose intolerant, it means you are unable to fully digest the lactose that is found in milk. As a result, you end up experiencing bloating, gas, abdominal pains and even diarrhoea.

You can get any of these two types of intolerance as you age. Primary intolerance occurs when your lactase production decreases as you age and you become less dependent on dairy. Many people are born with the ability to digest lactase and thus can enjoy milk from birth. However, if you are native to Africa or Asia, you are likely to get intolerant in your adult life.

Secondary is developed when you have a problem in your small intestine. It could be celiac disease or you have inflammatory bowel disease. All these can get you quite intolerant to the milk and milk products.

Nut milk is a great alternative to ordinary milk (Photo: Shutterstock)


For starters, remove all the milk and milk products from your diet. Many processed foods contain lactose elements. Be sure to check the boxes for presence of lactose. Be careful with yoghurt, butter, cheeses and margarines. Salad dressing, baking mixes, instant soups and sauces also have lactose.

You can try alternatives to milk like almond milk, soy milk or rice milk. Beware that you can become quite deficient from some nutrients like calcium, riboflavin and vitamin D. For these, get some supplements and you'll be good to go. It is also possible to get over-the-counter lactase enzyme which is available in capsule, pill, drops, or chewable form to take before consuming dairy products. These help to reduce any after effects of lactose intolerance.

Always know the signs and learn when to cut off the dairy products.

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