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If you have lactose intolerance, you may love milk, but your body doesn't -- and it lets you know that when you have too much. You might have symptoms like cramps after a bowl of cereal or gas after an ice cream treat.

Lactose is the main sugar in milk and other dairy products. If you have lactose intolerance, you can't digest it well. Lactose intolerance is not curable, but there are many ways to cut your symptoms and feel better.

What Are the Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

Between 30 minutes and 2 hours after eating a dairy product, you have one or more of these symptoms. They may be mild or severe.

  • Bloating
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Painful gas
  • Nausea

Even with lactose intolerance, you can tolerate a certain amount of lactose. This affects how quickly you have symptoms and how severe they are. Someone else may be sensitive to small amounts of foods with lactose, while you may be able to eat more before you have symptoms.

What Foods Have Lactose?

Dairy products such as milk and ice cream are some of the most common foods high in lactose. It's also in foods with dry milk solids, milk byproducts, nonfat dry milk powder, or whey, such as:

  • Breads and baked goods
  • Candy
  • Cereals
  • Salad dressings

Lactose is in some prescription medicines, including birth control pills, and over-the-counter drugs, such as some tablets to ease stomach acid or gas.

What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

If you have lactose intolerance, you can't digest lactose because your small intestine doesn't make enough lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose. The lactose that isn't digested makes gas in your colon.  So when you eat foods or take pills with lactose, you have symptoms.

For many people, lactose intolerance develops naturally with age, because the small intestine starts to make less lactase.

Your body may also make less lactase if your small intestine is injured or you have certain digestive problems, such as Crohn's or celiac disease.

Who Gets Lactose Intolerance?

Millions of Americans have lactose intolerance, so it's quite common. About 75% of all people around the globe have too little lactase to some degree. If you're African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American, you're more likely to have it.

What Is Life Like With It?

Lactose intolerance is easy to manage. You can probably eat some foods with lactose and not have symptoms. You may need to use trial and error to figure out what foods and how much of them you can tolerate, though.

You can also find many lactose-free dairy options at grocery stores. Lactase enzyme supplements can help you get the nutrition benefits of dairy, especially bone-building calcium and vitamin D, and avoid symptoms of lactose intolerance. And nondairy drinks, such as soy, almond, and rice milk, are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

If you have lactose intolerance, keep these things in mind:

  • You may do better having a little milk or dairy products with meals, because it's easier to digest lactose eaten with other foods.
  • Some dairy products may be easier for you to digest, such as cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese.
  • Using lactose-free milk, cheese, and other nondairy products in recipes will likely make the meal more pleasant.
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