Lactose Intolerance During Perimenopause
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
Perimenopause, a medical term for the menopausal transition, brings obvious and subtle changes to your body. Some of these changes are expected: Mood swings, irregular menstrual periods, hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and low libido are common perimenopause symptoms.
However, other changes may surprise you, especially food sensitivities and digestive conditions such as lactose intolerance. If the foods you once enjoyed—ice cream or cheese pizza, for example—now give you stomach or digestive problems such as nausea or diarrhea, you may have lactose intolerance.
If you are intolerant to lactose, your body cannot fully digest the milk sugar (lactose) in dairy products. Lactose intolerance seems to be a growing trend for women in perimenopause. Shifting hormone levels play a role in this condition. Dietary changes, such as eating more vegetables and complex carbohydrates, may also contribute to the problem.
Lactose Intolerance Is the Result of a Lactase Deficiency
Lactose intolerance stems from a deficit of lactase, a digestive enzyme produced in the small intestine. Lactase is necessary for the breakdown of lactose in dairy products. As you age, your body may stop producing lactase and you may no longer tolerate lactose.
If you suffer from lactose intolerance, you already know the symptoms: gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, nausea, and diarrhea. While the symptoms are usually mild, they can grow severe at times. A diet that limits dairy products can help control the symptoms.
Non-Dairy Foods You Can Try
Eating fewer dairy products can help you control the uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms of lactose intolerance. While dairy products are a good source of calcium and other nutrients, many non-dairy foods have the same nutrients, for example:
- Pinto beans
Cow milk substitutes, such as soy and rice milk, also contain calcium and other nutrients. Additionally, some breads and fruit juices are fortified with calcium. Your doctor or dietitian can recommend other ways for you to increase your calcium intake.
How You Can Still Consume Dairy During Menopause
Some perimenopausal women must avoid all dairy products. However, most women can enjoy small portions without consequence. You may be able to increase your tolerance for dairy foods by gradually re-introducing them into your diet.
A few simple dietary changes can minimize the unpleasant symptoms of lactose intolerance. Here are some ideas:
Have smaller servings of dairy.
Instead of drinking eight ounces of milk at breakfast, sip on four ounces and drink it with other foods. This slows digestion and lessens the symptoms of lactose intolerance. You can also try lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk.
Experiment with dairy foods.
Not all dairy foods contain the same amount of lactose, and some foods may cause no problems at all. Hard cheese has less lactose than other dairy foods, so your body may be able to tolerate it. Also, yogurt and cultured milk products contain bacteria that produce the enzyme necessary to digest lactose.
Beware of hidden lactose.
Non-dairy foods may contain lactose if they were prepared with milk. Instant soups, baking mixes, salad dressings, processed meats, and non-dairy creamers are some examples. Check the labels and look for milk, lactose, whey, and milk byproducts. Some medicines may contain lactose, so be sure to tell your doctor about your problem.
Take lactase enzyme supplements.
Lactase enzyme supplements are available over the counter as tablets or drops. They will not help everyone with lactose intolerance, but they are certainly worth a try. They are most effective when taken with a meal or snack.
Make Sure You Get the Right Nutrients to Avoid Developing Osteoporosis
Perimenopausal women experience bone loss due to declining estrogen levels. When your body starts to lose bone faster than it can replace it, you risk developing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is linked to calcium and Vitamin D deficiencies. Dairy foods are the best natural sources for these nutrients, but these foods contribute to lactose intolerance.
How can you get enough calcium to prevent osteoporosis and avoid the symptoms of lactose intolerance? Here are a few suggestions:
- Calcium supplements
- Calcium-fortified soy milk or orange juice
- Spinach, kale and other dark, leafy greens
Vitamin D is just as important as calcium, so be sure to get a little sunshine, too. Sunlight helps your body absorb Vitamin D and break down the calcium.
Probiotics Might Be Able to Help You
No medical treatments can cure lactose intolerance, and there is no way to increase the production of lactase. You are likely to find some symptom relief by reducing the number of dairy foods in your diet.
Probiotics, a popular alternative remedy, may help you deal with perimenopause and lactose intolerance. Probiotics are living organisms that are necessary for healthy digestion. They are naturally present in your intestines, and active cultures are also found in dietary supplements and yogurt.
Probiotics are a natural treatment for diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and they are thought to digest lactose as well. They are worth considering if you are lactose intolerant.
The information presented in this article is not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment by a qualified healthcare professional.
- Mayo Clinic. (February 16, 2010) "Lactose Intolerance." Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
- Mayo Clinic. (September 16, 2010) "Perimenopause." Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
- "Menopause and Lactose Intolerance." (2011) 34 Menopause Symptoms. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
- WebMD. (August 3, 2009.) "Lactose Intolerance: Topic Overview." WebMD Medical Reference. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
© 2011 Annette R. Smith