Dairy Intolerance: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – The Kitchen Rag

Did you know that although more than 50 millions Americans are lactose intolerant, more than 70% of them don’t relate their symptoms to the ingestion of lactose. Why?

Because everyone seems to have a different reaction to a dairy intolerance, some symptoms being more obvious than others. A few days ago I asked my dairy-free readers on The Kitchen Rag’s Facebook page if they had any other symptoms besides diarrhea, flatulence, bloatedess, or cystic acne – the more classic symptoms of a dairy intolerance- when they ingested dairy products. Here are some of their answers:


The Bad

“Oozing rash across the back of my fingers. Found out about lactose intolerance after a break from it. I still flirt with it sometimes, as it’s hard to resist! Most immediate symptom seems to be the whole surface of my scalp seems to jump off within 24 hours… Not too pretty!”

“Pain in my joints. Completely dairy free (including butter and ghee) and gluten free, sugar free. I feel 100% better. My skin has cleared up. Best it’s been in 20 years without any medication. Other skin issues also cleared up. Finally able to sleep at night as well. Btw, I don’t use any fake cheese replacement products either like nut cheese. I just go without.”

“Depression!!! I didn’t realize it until I got off of it. Also major asthma. No digestive or skin problems.”

“Fatigue, mental fog, nausea.”

“This is really odd but I had a severe pain in my foot. It would wake me up in the middle of the night and just ache horribly. I stopped eating dairy and it went away. Recently I’ve been eating cheese and some ice cream and the pain is back. The only thing I can relate to it is the dairy so I’m going dairy free again.”

“I got food poisoning in June and my gut still hasn’t recovered. I am dairy-free right now. Miss cheese and yogurt anddesserts SO MUCH, but the alternative (painful belly, gas, the feeling of not being able to breathe) just isn’t worth it.”

“Horrible PMS/menstruation. I gave it up for a while and now I eat dairy very sparingly with limited to no deleterious affect.”

“Psoriasis became activated which was associated with Psoriatic Arthritis. I use raw dairy now since going Paleo but only occasional.”

“I get very congested when I consume dairy. I love it but it does not love me back. I also have some joint inflammation too.”

And the list keeps going… Before we go any further I want to emphasize that this post specifically addresses dairy intolerance, not dairy allergy, a far more debilitating condition.

In a food allergy, a protein causes an allergic reaction (an immune response). An “allergen” is a protein that causes a food allergy.  In food intolerance, the person usually has an enzyme deficiency, meaning that a substance in the food is not digested properly. Food intolerance may also be caused by certain chemicals in foods, the natural occurrence of histamine in some foods, salicylates which are present in many foods, and food additives, food poisoning etc. Source

Dairy Intolerance Diagnosis

Do you have undesirable symptoms after you consume dairy? Are you wandering if you might be dairy intolerant, and would like to find out for sure? You have two options. One is free and one is not.

A) Pay for a dairy intolerance test.

Although  there are a couple of tests your doctor can give you to determine if you have a dairy intolerance, one of the less invasive ones is the lactose intolerance breath test, which tests the inability to break down lactose, but not other kinds sugar malabsorption or enzyme deficiencies.  The advantage of this test is that it can make a pretty specific estimate of the degree of malabsorption  taking place in your digestive tract. If lactose is not broken down completely by the lactase enzyme in the small intestine,  it travels to the colon where it undergoes a bacterial fermentation, causing hydrogen and sometimes methane levels in the breath within one to two hours after ingestion.  As  little as two grams of carbohydrate reaching the colon will cause an increase in breath hydrogen. So you will know right away whether you have an intolerance or not.

B) Eliminate dairy from your diet for two months.

I know you gasp in despair: “No Way! Two months!”  I agree. You should have seen the look on my face when I first realized that I needed to eliminate dairy out for two months to provide accurate information about level of impact dairy had on my body. After this torturous period of cheese, milk, and butter deprivation start, introducing dairy foods one by one, giving yourself 48 hours in between each food to monitor your reaction to the various groups. Some people tend to have a more severe reaction to milk than cheese. So you want to make sure you know what’s giving you the most grief. You might be among the lucky ones who could still have some stinky cheese and ghee. This is something the hydrogen test wont be able to tell you. You have to experiment with it yourself. But remember, it wont be accurate unless you eliminate all dairy for a solid chunk of time first.

Based on your age and medical history, you will be able to determine what type of dairy intolerance you might be struggling with. There are four types of lactose deficiency and keep in mind that secondary lactase deficiency is one of the most prevalent ones.

Primary lactase deficiency is genetically inherited. It is the most common type and usually develops when the patient is under 20 years of age. In most cases, this occurs when the baby is weaned from milk to solids. Although lactase levels may drop at such an early age, it may be a few years before lactose intolerance symptoms develop.

Secondary lactase deficiency: there is a problem with the small intestine that results in inadequate amounts of lactase production. Possible causes are intestinal surgery, stress, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, gluten intolerance,  chemotherapy, celiac disease, gastroenteritis, parasites, etc.

Congenital lactase deficiency: the person is born with a genetic mutation which means they produce very little lactase (or none at all). The condition is inherited from the patient’s parents.

Familial lactase deficiency: lactase production is fine, but it does not do the job. It does not break down the lactase into glucose and galactose so that it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. This condition is also inherited from the parents. Source

The Ugly

If you are suffering from an intolerance, failure to comply and avoid dairy can exacerbate certain conditions like Crohn’s disease, celiac, osteoporosis, eczema, psoriasis, leaky gut, depression, seasonal allergies, and more. Dairy intolerance should not be messed with. If not respected, it can cause real, debilitating disease down the road, and the decisions you make now will have permanent or difficult to reverse effects later in life.

The Good

If you are struggling with secondary lactase deficiency, there is hope  you might be able to enjoy that delicious stinky cheese some day sooner rather than later. In many cases, it is gut permeability that hinders the production of lactase. So the secret is to heal your gut by populating it with healthy bacteria. Here’s how:


To start repopulating your gut with good bacteria, start taking probiotic pills on an empty stomach in the morning and before going to bed. Look for a probiotic that contain L/Plantorum and has at least 50 billion strains.

Glutamine Powder

Begin with 1 to 3 grams daily. This is incredibly healing for the digestive tract.

Unlike the brain which uses glucose for energy, the cells of the small intestine depend on glutamine as their main fuel for maintenance and repair. Glutamine is alkalizing to the body. It decreases the incidence of infection and stimulates the production of sIgA. Glutamine has also been shown to decrease the risk of bacterial translocation Many people find that they feel stronger and have more endurance when they take glutamine. Source

Fermented Cod Liver Oil

Take a tablespoon of fermented cod liver oil for vitamin A and vitamin D. Both are vital nutrients for healing the gut and are great immune boosters as well. Activation of the vitamin D receptors on the intestinal wall inhibit intestinal permeability and vitamin A is essential for the mucous membrane.

Bone Broth

The gelatin in bone broth protects and heals the mucosal lining of the digestive tract and helps the digestion of important nutrients. Oh, and it’s delicious. Drink about a cup of bone broth a day!

Coconut oil

Contains lauric, capric, and caprylic acids. They have antimicrobial, anti-fungal, and antiviral properties. Take two tablespoon daily.

Digestive Enzymes

Take digestive enzymes with each meal to ensure that all the food is digested properly and is not causing more damage to your already sensitive gut.

Deglycerized Licorice

Promotes healing of mucous membrane by stimulating production of prostaglandins, which promote healing. It also has antibiotic and antioxidant properties. Use only deglycerized licorice! Take between meals.

If you continue this protocol for at least six months you will heal and strengthen your gut, which may help some of your dairy issues go away. If you want to re-introduce dairy after that, I recommend you slowly start introducing small amounts of raw dairy first. You might never be able to enjoy fried mozzarella sticks without having a bathroom emergency, but in time you will be able to enjoy a few slices or raw cheese or a cup of raw Greek yogurt. Don’t give up. Give it a shot! Be proactive about your health! Join me in this journey 🙂