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How Long Do Lactose Intolerance Symptoms Last: What Can You Eat Instead?

by Seraphina Therapeutics

If you’re lactose intolerant, you know that eating even a small portion of dairy can cause discomfort.  Symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the amount of dairy you’ve ingested, and the effects of your exposure can last for up to 2 days.  It can certainly be a frustrating experience, especially if the source was unexpected (for instance, hidden dairy in bread or pasta). 

Why do some of us have lactose intolerance? Our ancestors actually lacked a genetic mutation needed to allow them to properly digest dairy. Centuries of persistent dairy intake in the form of cheeses, yogurts, and other products, however, have enabled most of us to digest dairy enough to be considered lactose tolerant. 

Today, 68% of the world’s population suffers from lactose malabsorption.  While malabsorption isn’t intolerance, if someone is lactose intolerant, it is due to their lactose malabsorption.

What is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is the body’s inability to properly digest lactose, which is a sugar found in milk and milk products like cheese, butter, and yogurt.  Essentially, the small intestine cannot properly break down the lactose in dairy, which causes gastrointestinal distress.  Your body needs an enzyme called lactase in order to properly break down lactose. In individuals who are lactose intolerant, there is not enough lactase in their system to properly digest lactose. 

Symptoms of lactose intolerance include:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Nausea

If you are lactose intolerant, there’s no amount of lactose you can ingest which will be accepted by your body, but you may find there are some dairy products you are able to tolerate. 

While there’s no cure for lactose intolerance, you can manage your symptoms by avoiding certain “trigger” foods.  For instance, instead of swearing off dairy for good, it is suggested that you undergo an elimination diet, where you take certain dairy products out of your diet one at a time to see if undesirable symptoms lessen or worsen. 

It isn’t advisable to forgo dairy altogether, as this could compromise your ability to get enough calcium and vitamin D. 

While it’s definitely possible to get your daily recommended allowance of calcium and vitamin D from other foods (leafy greens are excellent sources), you may not be chomping at the bit to switch up your morning milk and buttered croissant for a plate of spinach, no matter how healthy. 

In addition to dietary changes, there are some over-the-counter remedies that can help your digestive system properly break down the lactose in the food you eat.

How Long Do Symptoms Last?

Cramping, bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea are no fun alone or in combination with one another. Unfortunately, symptoms from lactose intolerance can last up to 48 hours depending on the amount of lactose you have ingested.

The onset of initial symptoms usually occurs within half an hour to two hours of ingestion. The length of time it will take your body to fully process the lactose you have eaten is dependent on your own chemical makeup, metabolism, and the amount of lactose-laden food you have eaten.

If you have ingested lactose and are experiencing bad side effects, you can take an over-the-counter digestive aid to help you feel better. Additionally, you can try taking a synthetic lactase product prior to eating dairy, which should help you better digest the lactose in the product.

If your symptoms persist for more than 48 hours or become increasingly severe, you may need to seek medical attention. It could be possible that you have a dairy allergy and are not just lactose intolerant. While this is not too common, it’s best to know if this is the case so that you don’t have the same experience again.

What Can We Eat Instead of Dairy?

As previously mentioned, foregoing dairy altogether isn’t the best option unless you absolutely can’t tolerate any of it. Your body needs certain nutrients and vitamins that are present in dairy.

As such, if you cannot eat any dairy products, you’ll need to replace them with other foods rich in vitamin D and calcium. Some foods that contain vitamin D and calcium are:

  • Leafy greens, collards
  • Cooked broccoli
  • Garbanzo, kidney, and navy beans
  • Tofu
  • Fortified soy and almond milk
  • Fortified cereals
  • Canned fish like sardines and salmon

If you are unsure that you can get the recommended daily allowance of calcium and vitamin D in your diet from these food sources instead of dairy, you could use a supplement.

Another ingredient gleaned from whole fat dairy products like whole fat milk, butter, and full fat cheese, is a particular type of fat that a growing body of research suggests may be crucial and essential for our bodies.  This fat, called C15:0, is an odd-chain saturated fat, found in these dairy products, as well as some fish and plants. 

We know what you’re thinking: saturated fat is bad!  Actually, it now appears that some kinds of saturated fats are good.  What determines which saturated fats are bad or good is the number of carbon atoms they carry.  Surprisingly, saturated fatty acids with an odd number of carbons (called odd-chain saturated fatty acids), like C15:0 are associated with good health.

  • Even-chain saturated fatty acids (like C16:0) are associated with higher risks of having or developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and inflammation.
  • Odd-chain fatty acids, like C15:0, are associated with balanced immunity, heart health, healthy metabolism, red blood cell health, and liver health.†*

A growing body of science supports that C15:0 is the first essential fatty acid to be discovered in 90 years and that it can help support our bodies at a cellular level.* 

As we age, our cells become fragile, which impacts our overall health and wellbeing.  C15:0 can help to ensure our cells continue to function and thrive.*  If you’re lactose intolerant, it may be difficult for you to get enough C15:0 in your diet.  

How Can Fatty15 Help?

While C15:0 is primarily found in dairy products, that doesn’t mean that lactose intolerant people can’t get this critical fatty acid.  Fatty15 is a pure powder, once daily C15:0 supplement that is completely dairy free and provides you with the right amount of C15:0 to meet your dietary needs.*  You also benefit by not having to eat foods that have the 'bad' even-chain saturated fatty acids.

Fatty15 can help support your body at a cellular level by:*

  • Supporting cellular structure. Fatty15 helps support cell membranes, acting as armor so they stay safe and protected. Which means your cells can live and function longer.
  • Promoting mitochondrial health. As we age, our mitochondria don’t function as efficiently.  Fatty15 helps promote efficient, strong, mitochondrial health, enabling your cells to keep making the energy your body needs.
  • Helps balance cellular homeostasis. Fatty15 helps keep your cells balanced, supporting cellular immunity and metabolic function. In turn, studies support that these benefits can help you maintain normal immunity and healthy cholesterol and glucose levels.

~

Lactose intolerance is more than just having an upset stomach when you eat dairy.  Intolerance can mean you won’t get vital nutrients and fats your body needs to stay healthy.  Because symptoms from ingesting dairy can last up to 48 hours, it may not be worth it for a person with severe lactose intolerance to eat dairy in an attempt to get these fats and nutrients. 

Instead, practice an elimination diet, choose other foods rich in vitamin D and calcium, and take a supplement like fatty15 to ensure you’re getting your daily dose of healthy C15:0.* 

 

 

Sources:

 

https://www.pnas.org/content/104/10/3736.abstract

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28690131/

https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/l/lactose-intolerance.html

 

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