Food & Nutrition

7 Lactose Intolerance Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

A stomachache after a glass of milk is probably nothing, but if you feel sick every time you eat dairy, you might be facing a bigger problem.

You regularly experience bloating and gas


You know pretty quickly when the frozen yogurt you ate an hour ago isn’t digesting correctly; you’ll feel it in your puffed-out abdomen. Joel B. Mason, MD, a professor of medicine and nutrition at Tufts University, says all of these lactose intolerance symptoms can be the result of a deficiency of the enzyme lactase, which typically breaks down the two types of sugar in each lactose molecule so they can be easily absorbed into the intestine. Without lactase, lactose molecules will travel down the intestinal track whole and bacteria will try to break them down through a process of fermentation, which produces a whole lot of extra gas in your abdomen. Here are some other reasons your belly might be bloated.

Your belly is in pain, and making sounds

iStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros

Without lactase, your body’s attempt at breaking down lactose by itself can draw a lot of water into your intestine, in addition to gas in your gut, which are symptoms of lactose intolerance. The result is an unfortunate combination of diarrhea, cramps, and the sound of gurgling or rumbling in the belly, also known as borborygmi. According to, sometimes the diarrhea of someone who is lactose intolerant will also appear foamy, the result of all of the extra gas and fluid sloshing around in the gut. Here are some more signs you have an unhealthy gut.

You feel nauseous after eating dairy


There are different degrees of lactose intolerance, according to Chicago-based registered dietitian Karen Raden, RD; some individuals experience more extreme symptoms of lactose intolerance than others. In the worst cases, a lactase deficiency can cause someone to feel the need to vomit shortly after they consume a dairy product. “Gas in the intestine inflates it like a balloon, inducing a vomiting response,” says Dr. Mason. This reaction is relatively rare, according to Raden, but if it’s regularly occurring to you when you eat milk products, it’s probably a sign of a lactase deficiency. If you think you are lactose intolerant, here are the best dairy substitutes to try.

Your ethnicity has higher rates of lactose intolerance


We all need lactase to digest our mother’s milk as infants, but evolution didn’t automatically equip us to keep consuming lactose into adulthood. Humans’ ability to digest lactose in adulthood didn’t develop until about 5,000 years ago, among cattle herders in northern Europe, for whom the ability to digest milk was especially useful, according to the New York Times. Though genetics that allow for the presence of lactase in the body have spread in large portions of the Caucasian and East African populations, East Asian, South Asian, and other African populations have much higher incidences of adults experiencing symptoms of lactose intolerance, according to Dr. Mason. Here are the things that happen to your body when you give up dairy.

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