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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Vong U Chan and Dr Angelica L Dumapit on July 18, 2022

Do You Have These Lactose Intolerance Symptoms?

Although not life-threatening, lactose intolerance symptoms can make your life harder than it needs to be. Learn how to spot the symptoms and remedy them here.

Lactose intolerance symptoms min scaled

Although not usually life-threatening, lactose intolerance symptoms can affect your quality of life.

After all, dealing with gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation every time you consume lactose is no fun.

Additionally, lactose can sometimes hide in foods and drinks. This makes it hard to determine the source of your symptoms.

This article discusses common lactose intolerance symptoms and treatment options you may not have considered.

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products. People who are lactose intolerant are unable to break down these foods.

Lactose intolerance is when your body can’t break down or digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products.

People who are lactose intolerant have unpleasant symptoms after eating or drinking milk or dairy products, which include bloating, diarrhea and gas.

Causes and types

Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase in the small intestines. Lactase is needed to break lactose down into glucose and galactose.

There are four types:

  • Primary lactose intolerance: This occurs when the amount of lactase in the small intestine decreases with age.
  • Secondary lactose intolerance: The condition is due to injury to the small intestine. It commonly occurs when someone has an infection, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or another bowel disorder.
  • Developmental lactose intolerance: It commonly occurs in premature babies and may develop over a short period of time.
  • Congenital lactose intolerance: This is an extremely rare genetic condition that occurs when a baby makes little to no lactase from birth.

Common Symptoms Of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance symptoms usually occur within 30 minutes to two hours of eating lactose. They can range in severity, depending on how much lactose you consumed.

Symptoms may include:

  • Bloating
  • Intestinal gas
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Growling in your stomach (rumbling sounds)
  • Vomiting

Lactose intolerance symptoms vs. milk allergy

Although the two conditions may have similar symptoms, they are very different.

A milk allergy occurs when your immune system overreacts to lactose. Consuming lactose may trigger an allergic reaction. Symptoms can be mild, such as swelling, itching, hives, or a rash. They can also be severe, including wheezing, trouble breathing, loss of consciousness, and even death.

On the other hand, lactose intolerance is a food intolerance that does not provoke an immune system response. The condition occurs when someone is unable to break down foods that contain lactose because they lack the proper enzyme.

While symptoms can be uncomfortable, such as nausea, bloating, gas, cramps, and diarrhea, they are not life-threatening.

Lactose Intolerance Symptoms, According To TCM

Abdominal bloating, especially after eating, is a sign of IBS.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, lactose intolerance is viewed from the same perspective as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

IBS symptoms may include gas, bloating, alternating constipation and diarrhea, pain, mucus, an uncomfortably full feeling, and abdominal cramping.

According to TCM Physician Vong U Chan, “The most common syndrome diagnosed of IBS and lactose intolerance is Liver-Spleen disharmony. Under normal circumstances, the Liver is in charge of the free flow of Qi and Blood to the Spleen and Stomach. The Spleen and Stomach will then digest food by transforming food into Qi and Blood, which are transported throughout our body to nourish all the organs. When the Liver Qi becomes stagnant through emotions such as stress, anger, or moodiness in the body, it obstructs proper digestion and leads to indigestion, abdominal cramps, gas, and diarrhea.”

Tips For Preventing Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

Aside from avoiding foods and beverages with lactose, there are several things you can do to prevent symptoms from becoming severe.

According to Physician Vong, “As the root cause of lactose intolerance is due to a weak Stomach and Spleen, it is important to take care and protect the Yang Qi of our Stomach and Spleen.”

Physician Vong recommends avoiding raw, cold, and spicy food as well as cold beverages.

“Too many cold drinks can damage the Spleen and the body will take time to warm up the food before it gets digested. Develop healthy dietary habits such as eating in moderate amounts at fixed timings. If Dampness in the Spleen is already present, certain foods like dairy products, processed foods, alcohol, sugars, and sweeteners are said to exacerbate the situation,” stated Physician Vong.

TCM Ways To Ease Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

Symptoms of lactose intolerance are usually a result of Phlegm and Damp accumulation, resulting in bloating and diarrhea.

TCM can help to reduce the symptoms through herbal medication and acupuncture to remove the Phlegm and Dampness.

More importantly, it also aims to strengthen the Spleen and Stomach to promote smooth Liver Qi flow. This helps prevent recurring episodes of lactose intolerance.

Herbal remedies

Herbal medications such as Tong Xie Yao Fang, Shen Ling Bai Zhu San, Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang, and Xiao Yao San are commonly used.

Singular herbs that help nourish the Spleen include Astragalus, Ginseng, Codonopsis, Chinese Yam, White Atractylodes, and licorice. To resolve Dampness in the Spleen, the most effective herbs are Poria, Barley Seeds, and Hyacinth Beans.


Supplementing with probiotics and digestive enzymes may ease symptoms by positively altering the gut microbiota, making food digestion easier.

According to one study, probiotic supplementation helped reduce lactose intolerance symptoms, such as nausea, diarrhea, flatulence, and abdominal pain.


Acupuncture treatment aims to strengthen weak organs. The treatment focuses on acupoints along the Stomach and Spleen meridian.

However, the chosen acupoints very much depend on each patient’s condition. For lactose intolerance, common acupoints used are:

  • Zhong Wan RN 12
  • Tian Shu ST 25
  • Zu San Li ST 36
  • San Yin Jiao SP 6
  • Tai Chong LR 3

Always be sure to consult your doctor if you are experiencing lactose intolerance symptoms. He or she will be able to help you determine if a more serious condition is present, such as a milk allergy.

Never try to self-medicate with herbal remedies without first consulting a registered TCM physician. A physical assessment must be done before proper treatment can be recommended.

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