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How is lactose intolerance managed?

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No treatment can change the body's ability to make lactase.1 But most people who have problems digesting lactose can take steps to minimize symptoms without giving up milk and milk products completely. Studies show that the following strategies can help2:

  • Drink low-fat milk or fat-free milk in servings of one cup or less.
  • Drink low-fat milk or fat-free milk with other food, such as with breakfast cereal, instead of on an empty stomach.
  • Eat dairy products other than milk, such as low-fat or fat-free hard cheeses or cottage cheese, or low-fat or fat-free ice cream or yogurt. These foods contain less lactose per serving compared with milk and may cause fewer symptoms.
  • Choose reduced-lactose milk and milk products, which have the same amount of calcium as regular milk.
  • Use over-the-counter pills or drops that contain lactase enzyme.

With some trial and error, people with lactose intolerance can learn which milk products and how much of them their bodies can handle.3 Most people should not avoid milk and milk products completely because they provide calcium, vitamin D, and other key nutrients needed for bone and overall health. People who are lactose intolerant should make sure they get enough of these key nutrients from other sources if they don't get them from dairy foods.2

  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2009). Lactose intolerance. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from [top]
  2. Suchy, F. J., Brannon, P. M., Carpenter, T. O., Fernandez, J. R., Gilsanz, V., Gould, J. B., et al. (2010). NIH consensus development conference statement: Lactose intolerance and health. NIH Consensus and State-of-the-Science Statements, 27(2), 1–27. PMID 20186234 [top]
  3. American Gastroenterological Association. (2010). Understanding food allergies and intolerances. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from External Web Site Policy [top]

Last Reviewed: 05/06/2014
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