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Are you in menopause and suspect you have developed lactose intolerance?
As the natural process of menopause takes hold, a question many women ask is – can menopause cause lactose intolerance? With the changes in hormone levels, it’s possible that a woman’s dietary needs may also shift. This is especially true when it comes to menopause and dairy. With that in mind, it’s important to understand the effects of the lactose in dairy products on menopause and if dairy can make menopause worse to give you the best opportunity to optimize your diet and reduce unwanted symptoms.
A while ago Peter and I went to dinner at a friends place. I always enjoy these gatherings with like-minded women and their partners so I was really looking forward to it. Not long before going I started to suffer from gas and bloatedness which ended up completely ruining the night as I sat in absolute pain and trying very hard not to embarrass myself with any self-willed flatulence.
I had never really suffered with food sensitivities before but after a few bouts similar to this I changed to lactose-free milk for my tea and cut out all dairy besides a little Greek yoghurt on my muesli and the issues virtually disappeared. For those who like a bit of yoghurt, Greek contains less lactose due to the fact that most of the whey has been strained out of it.
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Having a food intolerance isn’t an absolute riot. You can suffer from abdominal pain, discomfort, and nausea. There are also possible embarrassing symptoms like flatulence and diarrhoea. Other symptoms of food intolerances include muscle or joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin symptoms like rashes and eczema and acne.
It can sometimes be difficult to identify that there it is possibly something in your diet that is causing these symptoms.
Dairy products are just one group of foods that many people seem to be intolerant of.
It is important before you go further to talk to your doctor to decide between you if you stomach issues are because of changes in diet, irritable bowel syndrome or a number of other digestive issues.
The main components of milk that people react to are lactose, casein, and whey.
Milk sugar (lactose) intolerance
Somewhere close to 75% of adults are intolerant to the carbohydrate “milk sugar” or lactose that is naturally found in most dairy products.
Lactose free products are now commonplace in most stores.
Lactose-free products are treated with the enzyme “lactase” which breaks the lactose down enabling you to digest it. It is the lactase that is missing in most people who are lactose intolereant.
In most people the lactase enzyme is naturally released from their intestine as it is one of the digestive enzymes. It breaks down the lactose sugar in the gut. If you don’t have enough, or any lactase the lactose is not broken down properly.
Undigested lactose becomes food for the resident gut microbes. As they go to work on fermenting the lactose, gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhoea are created.
Other products containing lactose
Lactose is also present in fermented dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt and butter. Completely removing lactose from your diet is not easy as it is added in some form to many compound foods like baked goods, soups, and sauces. Also, check the label on medications and supplements as lactose is a common ingredient in them.
What can you do?
If you feel like you are lactose intolerant try removing as many lactose-containing foods from your diet as you can and give it a good 7 to 10 days to see how you feel. If the problems persist it may be necessary to get serious and remove all lactose-containing foods and give it some time to see how you feel.
After trying everything the problems continue with your gut it could be that there is something else causing the issues. There are many foods that can upset the gut so it is about removing as many of these foods as you can then reintroducing them one at a time and waiting a few days after each introduction to see if there are any changes.
Milk protein (casein & whey) allergy
Milk is also a common, food allergen. In Australia and many other countries around the world, it is considered a “priority allergen” and must be declared on food labels.
Remember Little Miss Muffet – she sat on her tuffet (whatever the heck that is!) eating her curds and whey. These are the two main proteins in milk. The solid bits are the curds or casein and the liquid is the dissolved whey.
Unlike lactose intolerance, casein and whey can cause an actual immune response that can cause inflammation. It’s an allergy. We don’t know how many people have these milk allergies, but most estimates put it far below that of lactose intolerance.
These allergenic milk proteins can be found in many other products. Some protein powders are made with whey so be watchful if you suspect you are allergic.
Some of the symptoms of milk protein allergy differ from that of lactose intolerance; things like nasal congestion and mucus (phlegm) are more common here. And casein, a protein found in milk, has been linked with belly fat.
Interestingly, people who have gluten intolerance are often allergic to milk proteins like whey and casein as well. These can go hand-in-hand.
Like lactose intolerance, if you’re allergic to casein and whey keep an eye on labels so you can avoid them.
Other foods can cause similar symptoms
Diagnostic tests will not show if you have lactose intolerance. The same is true for an intoerance to fructose, sorbitol or one of the other sugars that the small intestine struggles to digest.
Lactose intolerance in menopause
Some women may develop lactose intolerance in menopause.
Changeing hormone levels during menopause can be the reason your body to stops producing lactase meaning your body can no longer tolerate lactose.
One of the issues a menopausal woman may come up against if she is lactose intolerant is where to get the calcium that they need. Along with that they need to make sure they are having enough vitamin d which helps our bodies absorb calcium.
Some suggestions for getting calcium and vitamin D when you are lactose intolerant are:
- Calcium supplements
- Cacium fortified alternative milks
- Spinach, and other leafy green
- Ten to fifteen minutes in the sun helps your body to make vitamin D and so you can better absorb calcium
What is the best milk substitue for women experiencing menopuase symptoms?
This choice for menopausal women really comes down to preference. Some of the choices are, Almond milk, Coconut milk, Soy milk, oat milk, and may others.
As a general tip the nutrients in these milks will follow the nutrients in their main ingredient. For example Almonds in almond milk are a good source of Vitamin E. Coconut is a good source of magnesium and so is coconut milk although at a diluted level.
If you notice you are often gassy, bloated, or have diarrhoea after eating dairy products, you may have lactose intolerance.
Perhaps you suffer from a stuffy nose and mucus, then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey.
While dairy products might seem difficult to cut from your diet, they don’t provide any essential nutrients. All the nutrients in dairy are available in other foods.
If you find you are experiencing any symptoms, try removing dairy from your diet. You may find improved digestion and fewer gut issues or improved nasal congestion.
There are many alternative foods available on the market that can work in place of dairy products. Try almond or coconut milk or a mixture of both. Coconut yoghurt is delicious and fairly easy to make yourself if you are not keen to pay the prices at the supermarket. You can use goats milk as an alternative as it is easier to tolerate and gentler on the gut. If you find you can tolerate it then goats milk feta could be a nice addition to your diet.
If you decide to (or have already) removed dairy from your diet, let me know your experience in the comments below.