How long do lactose intolerance symptoms last?

We’ve been asked many times: How long do lactose intolerance symptoms last? It can be a tricky question. The easy answer is: it all depends on your body.

The more thorough response about lactose intolerance symptoms would be: are you sure it’s lactose intolerance? Let’s take a look at what intolerances are and a few signs and symptoms you may experience.

Food intolerance involves the digestive process. Symptoms of an intolerance can come on gradually and is not life threatening. If eating a certain food (too much of that certain food) irritates your stomach or you’re not digesting it properly you may have food intolerances. The symptoms can show up 30 minutes to 2 hours later. These reactions are very different than food allergies.

Symptoms of food intolerances:

  • Gas (food baby)
  • Bloating
  • Headaches
  • Heartburn
  • Flatulence (passing gas)
  • Fatigue

Food allergies are different. They are an immune response. More specifically and IgE response. In the case of a true food allergy the symptoms come on very quickly. Just the smallest amount of a certain food can initiate a reaction and they can be life threatening. These symptoms happen suddenly and most often before a 30-minute mark.

Symptoms of food allergies:

  • Hives
  • Rashes
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Drop in Blood Pressure
  • Itchy Skin

On one side of the spectrum you have intolerances on the opposite side you have food allergies.  In the middle you’ll find sensitivities. This too is an immune response but it is delayed not immediate. Meaning, delayed reactions will happen after a 3 hour mark but can even happen 3 weeks or 3 months later. The signs and symptoms can be some of the same as both the intolerance and the allergy.

Symptoms of food sensitivities:

  • Gas and bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy Skin
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Indigestion
  • Brain Fog
  • Swelling
  • Puffy eyes
  • Eczema/Acne
  • Feeling “sick all over” but really can’t find supporting evidence

How can you tell the difference? When it comes to intolerances versus sensitivities you can run a food/chemical sensitivity test. The LRA by ELISA/ACT test can look at more than 500 different items and how your white blood cells respond. This is the most accurate way to tell if you have sensitivities. There are folks out there that encourage a rotation or elimination plan. This just isn’t accurate enough.

Think about this: you suspect you have a lactose intolerance because three hours after you eat vanilla ice cream you get the most horrendous belly bloating and gas. Your stomach swells so big you look six months pregnant and the pain is excruciating. You decide to stop eating vanilla ice cream. But, desperate for an ice cream fix you buy vanilla ice cream made from almond milk only to have the same thing happen. Now you’re curious and try vanilla ice cream made from coconut milk and it happens again. You finally agree to give food/chemical sensitivity testing a try and the results come back with sensitivity to vanilla, carrageenan, and propylene glycol among other things. All of these could be ingredients in cow dairy ice cream products and alternative milk ice cream products. These reactive items can be in other foods (or meals) you’re eating and because of the delay in symptoms you may not be able to pinpoint the exact food that is causing the disturbance. Eliminating foods and substituting without definitive answers and guidance can turn to a wild goose chase and extreme frustration.

So, how long do lactose intolerance symptoms last? As long as it takes your body to digest and eliminate. For some people that could be 12 hours for others it could be much longer. Intolerance means inability to tolerate (or digest). Your body will force the undigested cow dairy product through the system and you may experience the pain and discomfort as long as it takes you the food from point A to point B.

To determine your digestive transit time (time to digest and eliminate), it can be tracked by using enough activated charcoal capsules appropriate for your weight. Jot down the start time and finish time. The finish time is when you see the activated charcoal in your stool. Optimal digestive transit time is 12-18 hours.

Whether you have intolerances or sensitivities: why guess when you can test?  Take simple steps to control your health and wellness outcomes. Choose your test and get tested.

For more information on lactose intolerance, click here.