What Happens If you Ignore Lactose Intolerance? 6 Complications.
Our content is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice by your doctor. Use for informational purposes only.
What you need to know:
Many scenarios can happen if you ignore lactose intolerance:
- Shortly after eating you will suffer from the symptoms of lactose intolerance such as abdominal pain, gas and flatulence, diarrhea, and sometimes, nausea, vomiting, and constipation.
- Diarrhea, abdominal pain, and flatulence can become chronic if you continue to ignore lactose intolerance.
- Long-term effects of lactose intolerance include weight loss, malnutrition, affection of your bone health, and fatigue.
- You don’t have to cut lactose completely, taking smaller amounts, together with lactose-reduced products and lactase supplements can improve your symptoms.
1- Chronic diarrhea (and its complications).
Diarrhea a few hours after ingestion of lactose-containing food. Diarrhea itself can be debilitating to you.
Prolonged diarrhea can deplete fluids from your body. You can enter a state of chronic dehydration. This will negatively affect your overall well-being.
This chronic dehydration also can lead to (reference)
- Urine and kidney problems (such as kidney stones).
- Chronic fatigue and dizziness.
- Confusion and fainting can also affect you in severe cases of dehydration.
- Poor work tolerance and easy fatigue.
- Severe electrolyte loss from chronic diarrhea (as Potassium and calcium loss) can lead to more serious problems such as low blood pressure (shock, and seizure).
Should you worry?
You should note that the above symptoms only occur in extreme cases. Not all people suffer from severe forms of diarrhea (more than 5 motions per day).
Diarrhea due to lactose intolerance is not typically present in all cases. Also, many people have intermittent or sporadic attacks of diarrhea. This less severe form of diarrhea usually doesn’t lead to such complications.
But note that the diarrhea is dose-dependent (reference). The more lactose you intake, the more diarrhea. Ignoring lactose intolerance completely can lead to chronic diarrhea and complications.
2- Bloated stomach and flatulence (Wind).
With lactose intolerance, your intestines are not able to digest and absorb lactose. The persistence of lactose inside your gut causes more gas production.
This is almost an inevitable fate if you ignore lactose intolerance. If you are female, you will notice visible distension. This can be disfiguring and stressful socially.
Also, the sense of fullness and discomfort can become permanent. Totally ignoring lactose intolerance will lead to the frequent passage of flatus.
Withholding gas (as in the workplace or social situations) will make you uncomfortable. And this may exacerbate the gas and gas pain.
3- Chronic Abdominal Pain.
Abdominal pain is the most frequent symptom of lactose intolerance. Chronic abdominal pain occurs in almost 100% of cases.
So, abdominal pain is nearly inevitable if you ignore lactose intolerance. (reference).
Abdominal pain is usually dependant on the dose of lactose you take. The more lactose in your diet, the more pain.
Both pain severity and frequency will increase as you increase the amount of lactose.
Usually, small amounts of lactose won’t cause symptoms. In this study, the vast majority of lactose-intolerant people tolerated small lactose doses (Up to 12 grams).
However, this is not always the case. A small subset of people included in the same study developed symptoms at smaller doses (less than 6 grams).
4- Chronic nausea and/or vomiting.
Nausea after eating lactose usually occurs in 30 minutes to a few hours. In extreme cases (when you totally ignore lactose intolerance), vomiting can also occur.
Chronic nausea will result in anorexia. You will have no appetite for the next meal. And this can affect your weight in the long term.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance (including nausea) can last up to 48 hours (reference).
5- Affection of your bones.
Milk is the main source of calcium (the most important mineral for bone health).
Whether you ignore lactose intolerance or not, you are at risk of impaired bone health.
- If you stop eating dairy, you may fail to obtain enough calcium.
- Also, when you completely ignore lactose intolerance, you can suffer from severe malabsorption of nutrients (including calcium).
So, You should be aware of your calcium intake whether you are consuming dairy or not.
However, the risk of calcium deficiency and affection of bone is more when you restrict dairy (rather than ignoring lactose intolerance). (reference).
Taking lactose-reduced dairy products or obtaining calcium from non-dairy sources are two good solutions.
6- Malnutrition and weight loss.
Weight loss and malnutrition are more common in children rather than adults. Severe chronic diarrhea can lead to weight loss and deficiencies of multiple nutrients.
Malnutrition can affect you in multiple ways:
- You will feel tired all the time.
- You will feel weaker.
- You will get ill more often, and the illness will be more severe.
- Your concentration will become poor.
- Also, your mood will be affected; low mood or depression is common.
- You will feel cold more often.
[IMPORTANT] Tips to deal
1- Try to eat smaller amounts of lactose rather than ignoring it completely.
Several studies showed that most people can tolerate smaller amounts of lactose. Often, you can tolerate eating 12-15 grams of lactose in a single dose.
You can test yourself with different amounts of lactose. With time, you will discover the maximum dose you can tolerate.
2- Try lactose-reduced milk and ice cream.
The lactose-reduced milk and ice cream is excellent solution. Instead of ignoring lactose intolerance, you can obtain the benefits of milk without the risks of intolerance.
You can use 2% lactose-reduced milk and ice cream.
3- Try lactase enzyme supplements.
The original pathology of lactose intolerance is the deficiency of the enzyme lactase inside your gut.
Taking lactase enzyme supplements can improve your symptoms.
A better way is to add liquid or powder forms of the lactase supplement to milk. It will break down lactose before you drink it.
A final word:
You are not alone with your condition. Too many people who are just like you suffer from lactose intolerance.
Instead of ignoring lactose intolerance completely, you can ask for help. Consult your dietitian or your doctor for better management of your symptoms.
You can enjoy your life while you have lactose intolerance. You only need to ask the right persons and take the right decisions.
Totally ignoring lactose intolerance is not the best decision you will make.
- Fast facts: developing lactose intolerance later in life.
- Lactose Intolerances 101: A Beginner’s Guide.
- What Does Lactase Enzyme Do? (Infographic).