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Milk makes up an important part of your diet, and generally it will not cause diarrhea unless you're lactose intolerant. Digestive upset in lactose intolerance develops because the body is missing an enzyme, called lactase, that digests the lactose in milk, instead of leaving it undigested and able to cause problems 2. If you develop diarrhea after drinking milk, consult your health care professional.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Lactose intolerance is the inability of the small intestine to produce enough lactase to properly digest the milk-sugar 2. Infants produce sufficient amounts of lactase to digest breast milk. During adulthood the body slows down lactase production. MedlinePlus, an online resource of the Institutes of Health, explains that before there were diary farmers, many people didn’t consume milk so their bodies stopped creating the enzyme after infancy.
- Lactose intolerance is the inability of the small intestine to produce enough lactase to properly digest the milk-sugar 2.
Temporary Lactose Intolerance
Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms that develops shortly after drinking milk. You may experience abdominal cramps, bloating, gas, foul-smelling stools and floating stools. In severe cases of lactose intolerance you may lose weight, become dehydrated and experience malnutrition 2.
According to the National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can lead to further complications. When you’re dehydrated your body has lost too much fluid, which can cause your body to malfunction. Signs of dehydration include dry skin, thirst, fatigue, lightheadedness and dark-colored urine. To prevent dehydration, drink increased liquids, such as water, herbal teas and sports drinks with electrolytes.
- According to the National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can lead to further complications.
- Signs of dehydration include dry skin, thirst, fatigue, lightheadedness and dark-colored urine.
Lactose & Itching
If you develop diarrhea after drinking milk along with other symptoms, you may be allergic to milk. A milk allergy is uncommon in adulthood but could develop at any age. Common milk allergy symptoms are hives, eczema, asthma, nasal congestion and other gastrointestinal complications, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. A severe allergic reaction to milk can be life-threatening. Talk with your doctor if you suspect you’re allergic to milk.
- If you develop diarrhea after drinking milk along with other symptoms, you may be allergic to milk.
- Talk with your doctor if you suspect you’re allergic to milk.
Lactose intolerance is incurable, but manageable 12. Avoiding the consumption of lactose is the best way to prevent lactose intolerant symptoms, according to MedlinePlus 2. Buy special lactose-free diary products or substitute dairy with rice or soy-based products. You can also purchase lactase enzyme supplements that can be taken at the first bite or sip of milk to prevent symptoms.
The best treatment for diarrhea from lactose intolerance is to drink more water to prevent dehydration 2. Once you’ve ingested the dairy, you will experience adverse symptoms until the milk passes from the body. The National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse recommends avoiding foods that are high in fiber, sweets, caffeinated beverages and foods and greasy foods until the diarrhea has subsided.
Temporary Lactose Intolerance
Lactose & Itching
Milk Protein Intolerance Symptoms
Lactose and Sheep Milk
Milk & Flatulence
How Long Does it Take to Digest Milk?
Dairy Products & Sinus Drainage
Dairy & Tonsil Stones
Milk Allergy & Skin Rash
Casein and Lactose
- Ohio State University Medical Center: Lactose Intolerance
- MedlinePlus: Lactose Intolerance
- US National Library of Medicine. Lactose intolerance. Medline Plus. 2019.
- National Institutes of Health. Lactose Intolerance. Genetics Home Reference. 2019.
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- Szilagyi A, Ishayek N. Lactose intolerance, dairy avoidance, and treatment options. Nutrients. 2018;10(12). doi:10.3390/nu10121994
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Lactose intolerance.
- KidsHealth from Nemours. Lactose intolerance. 2015.
- UW Integrative Health. The elimination diet. School of Medicine and Public Health University of Wisconsin Madison.
- Dekker PJT, Koenders D, Bruins MJ. Lactose-free dairy products: Market developments, production, nutrition and health benefits. Nutrients. 2019;11(3). doi:10.3390/nu11030551
- Cleveland Clinic. Gas: management and treatment. 2016.
- Ferreira-lazarte A, Moreno FJ, Villamiel M. Application of a commercial digestive supplement formulated with enzymes and probiotics in lactase non-persistence management. Food Funct. 2018;9(9):4642-4650. doi:10.1039/c8fo01091a
- Ferreira-Lazarte A , Moreno FJ , Villamiel M .Application of a commercial digestive supplement formulated with enzymes and probiotics in lactase non-persistence management.Food Funct. 2018 Sep 19;9(9):4642-4650. doi: 10.1039/c8fo01091a.
- Varjú P, Gede N, Szakács Z, Hegyi P, Cazacu IM, Pécsi D et al. Lactose intolerance but not lactose maldigestion is more frequent in patients with irritable bowel syndrome than in healthy controls: A meta-analysis.Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2019 May;31(5):e13527. doi: 10.1111/nmo.13527. Epub 2018 Dec 17.
Diane Marks started her writing career in 2010 and has been in health care administration for more than 30 years. She holds a registered nurse license from Citizens General Hospital School of Nursing, a Bachelor of Arts in health care education from California University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Science in health administration from the University of Pittsburgh.