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Lactose intolerance: types, symptoms and practical tips

Do you feel bloated after drinking yoghurt, or do you feel discomfort when you drink a glass of milk? If the answer to these questions is yes, you are probably lactose intolerant.

Lactose intolerance is the body's inability to digest lactose. It is caused by insufficient or no production of the enzyme lactase, which breaks it down so that it can be absorbed, transported into the bloodstream and used as a nutrient.

Between 30 and 50% of the Spanish population suffers from lactose intolerance.

Lactose is a sugar that is present in milk and in different industrial products such as preservatives, which may be included in sausages or ready meals.

Types of intolerance:

2 main types of lactose intolerance can be distinguished:

  • Primary lactose intolerance consists of the progressive loss of lactase production, leading to a decrease in lactose assimilation. It is genetic, progressive and irreversible, and is the most common in the population.
  • Secondary lactase is also the loss of lactase production over a period of time due to a disease (such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach virus, etc.) and can be reversed.



Abdominal pain



Stomach spasms

Abdominal bloating

For many years, people suffering from lactose intolerance had to avoid eating dairy and dairy products, with the risk of reducing the intake of essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus and some vitamins, weakening the natural mineralisation of the bones.

For many years, the main treatment was to eliminate the intolerant foods from the diet. Even so, if dairy products are no longer consumed, deficiencies of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus can occur, the deficiency of which can lead to long-term health problems such as osteoporosis. Nowadays, food supplements have been developed based on lactase, which helps digest lactose in people who have difficulty digesting it.


  • Check food labels, many foods may contain traces of milk, even if they don't look like it.
  • Pay attention to processed products such as bread, biscuits, sausages, pizzas, etc.
  • Some medicines may contain lactose as an excipient. Read the package leaflets carefully or consult the pharmacist if in doubt.
  • Try lactose-free products and get to know them. There are more and more products on the market labelled "lactose-free".
  • Opt for fermented milk products, such as yoghurt or kefir, which contain less lactose and are usually better tolerated.
  • Use lactase as a food supplement before consuming dairy products to avoid intestinal symptoms.
  • Eat foods rich in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D such as fish, nuts, dried fruits, dried figs, spinach, soya, eggs, wheat germ… You can also find a wide range of fortified foods, such as lactose-free milk.
  • If you suffer from a severe intolerance or have any doubts, consult your doctor or specialist.

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