Whether you're enjoying it with cookies or in a breakfast smoothie, milk provides calcium and vitamin D for strong bones and protein to build muscle, but not everyone can drink milk. Drinking milk causes some people to feel bloated and might cause cramping, gas or diarrhea. These people might have lactose intolerance and need to avoid dairy products. Soy milk, rice milk or almond milk might provide a suitable substitute.
When you're an infant, your body produces an enzyme, lactase, in the small intestines. Lactase helps your body digest milk sugar, or lactose. This enzyme is important for infants, who derive all of their early nutrition from milk. But as people age, most produce less lactase. Without lactase, your body has a more difficult time digesting lactose and you might experience stomach and intestinal upset, including bloating.
Who It Affects
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that approximately 30 million adults in America have some degree of lactose intolerance. Asians, Native Americans, African-Americans and those of Mediterranean origin have a higher incidence of lactose intolerance than other ethnic groups. Though most people develop the problem after age 5, some African-Americans start to have trouble digesting dairy products as early as 2.
If you have lactose intolerance, you might experience bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramps shortly after you consume dairy products such as milk and ice cream. The greater the quantity of dairy products, the worse the symptoms. If you suspect you have lactose intolerance, stop consuming milk and milk products and your symptoms should go away. If your symptoms don't resolve once you stop consuming dairy products, see your doctor, since the bloating might have another origin.
If you have lactose intolerance, look for lactose-free dairy products or try products that are naturally lower in lactose, such yogurt, buttermilk and cottage cheese. Some people can tolerate smaller servings of milk, from 2 to 4 oz. at a time. If you substitute soy milk or other non-dairy milks or decide to forgo dairy products altogether, ask your doctor about taking calcium and vitamin D supplements to make sure you take in adequate amounts of these important nutrients.