Buttermilk and Lactose

healthy drink. orange clay jug with milk in rustic style
A pitcher of buttermilk on a burlap napkin. (Image: Serbogachuk/iStock/Getty Images)

If you have moderate lactose intolerance, consider drinking buttermilk as a suitable alternative. Buttermilk contains less lactose than regular milk and may not cause common lactose intolerance symptoms in some people. Your doctor may recommend a "challenge diet" to determine whether you should use buttermilk instead of regular milk. If you have adverse reactions, stop drinking buttermilk and call your doctor.

Buttermilk

Active cultures added to cow’s milk ferment the milk and give buttermilk its tart taste. The high acidic content in buttermilk provides a natural preservative that gives this milk a longer shelf life than regular milk. The bacteria used to make buttermilk convert the lactose in the milk into lactic acid, giving buttermilk its distinctive taste. Regular milk contains the sugar lactose, which causes the symptoms of lactose intolerance if you lack the enzyme needed to digest it. The easily absorbed lactic acid in buttermilk does not require any digestion.

Lactose

Lactase digests lactose into two simple sugars, glucose and galactose, for absorption into your bloodstream. If you have a lactase deficiency, your digestive system cannot break down the milk sugar, leaving it undigested and unabsorbed. Lactose passes through your digestive system and enters the colon, where it interacts with various bacteria. The bacteria interacting with the lactose cause diarrhea, gas, bloating, cramping and stomach pain.

Intolerance Consideration

Tiny hair-like particles called villi line the top layer of your small intestines. Villi produce enzymes and absorb nutrients from the food you eat. Typically, around adolescence, villi stop producing as much lactase, and can cause some people to become lactose intolerant. Not everyone experiences the same degree of lactose intolerance. While someone can drink as much as four ounces of milk without any complications, someone else cannot drink as little as a tablespoon of milk. Your level of lactose intolerance will determine how much buttermilk you can drink without adverse reactions.

Treatment

If you notice that you develop symptoms after drinking buttermilk, you can still enjoy it if you take a lactase supplement before your first sip of the beverage. Pharmacies carry lactase supplements. However, before taking them, first discuss using this medication with your doctor. If you drink buttermilk and develop lactose-intolerant symptoms, you will have to wait until your body expels the lactose for relief.

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