Lactose Overdose! Will I Survive?

I’m a firm believer in the importance of milk in a child’s diet. I was brought up on three glasses of milk a day. We had it plain – no Bournvita or Horlicks or even sugar – and cold. I loved it. My parents eventually allowed us to stop the lunch-time glass of milk, which made me feel all grown up, but I continued to have my milk twice a day until… I think until I started college/work. And then I continued to have one cup a day, though I started mixing it – still cold, or sometimes room temperature – with Nescafe. Eventually, of course, I switched to hot coffee, but it was still made entirely with milk. Back then, breakfast was my favourite meal – a big mug of milk with coffee in it, and a banana or an apple. All my favourite foods in one meal! Wow.

When we came back from the US in 1999 is the first time I recall have continuous stomach trouble. It took a while to work out that it was due to lactose intolerance. Looking back, I thought that perhaps it had been coming on for a few years before that, but it was never so bad. In the US, it seemed to have disappeared altogether, and I feasted not just on cold milk, but also on ice cream and cheese and flavoured yogurt without any problem.

For the last ten years, I’ve been aware of my lactose intolerance and all its various moods and manifestations. It comes and goes. For months at a stretch, it will be so mild that I can have generous helpings of curd or ice cream every day for days on end without any discomfort. When we travel to Calcutta it is always at its worst – a convenient and only mildly untrue basis for getting out of having to eat vast quantities of milky/creamy, sickly-sweet sweets. (In the process, I also miss out on some of the more delicious milk-based sweets, though. But you can’t avoid your cake and eat it too…)

When we trek in the Himalayas, I’ve noticed, my lactose intolerance really does become more acute. I avoid milk like the plague, of course, but even the slightest trace of ghee in the food is enough to set it off. There’s no apparent reason for this, so I can only surmise that my stomach is a little more irritable at high altitudes and this might be further exacerbated by drinking water straight out of rivers and streams (and you don’t want to even think about what all goes into the river and streams up in the hills).

Ever since the gastric trouble that the doctor is calling “functional dyspepsia” – which is a name they hang on a set of symptoms when they can’t find anything wrong that’s causing those symptoms – started, my lactose intolerance seems to be at its peak. Either that, or, I suspect, it is no longer possible to distinguish between bloating due to functional dyspepsia and bloating due to lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance used to lead quickly to a rather severe stomach upset with extreme cramping, but that no longer happens, so I’m a tad confused here.

Still, one thing is clear. Nowadays, I have to steer clear of all milk products. Even a couple of teaspoons of milk in my morning cuppa is enough to trigger the bloating. And that’s tragic. I gave up my milk-based coffee years ago, and I’ve never been able to stomach black coffee, so no milk means no coffee. And without my morning cuppa… life is just not the same anymore. The morning is strangely incomplete. The sleep won’t leave my eyes (and my brain) until I get my caffeine kick.

I struggle in other ways too. I can live without cheese and paneer, but cakes and ice creams? Is it even worth living if you can’t indulge in those once in a way (once in a day, more like)? I enjoy baking, and my baking uses liberal quantities of butter. How can I bake and then not eat? How can I not ever bake?

A much bigger problem looms ahead. Italy. The land of pizza and pasta. The land of pastry and gelato. Heaven help me – nine days of temptation! How on earth am I going to survive this?

10 Responses to Lactose Overdose! Will I Survive?

  1. Doug Helms says:

    If I had to venture a guess, I don’t think you’re suffering from lactose intolerance. I’m milk intolerant, originally to the lactose but eventually to sodium caseinate, a milk protein, and whey (another one). And yet butter gives me no trouble.
    And ghee should especially give one no trouble. Butter is mostly milk fat, and ghee? I’d have to do some web research, but I doubt that it contains either lactose or milk protein.

    What may have happened is that you may have picked up an intestnal microbe of unknown variety.
    Dr’s love to give names to they don’t understand.

    Were I you, I think I’d return to the doctor and be tested for various gastrointestinal parasites.

    I’d hate for you to have to be forced to permanently avoid milk products.
    Oh, by the way, although a glass of milk will instantly give me the symptoms of having a full-blown cold, I am able to tolerate aa bit of cheese. I was told that that was because I was allergic to the milk’s protein and not it’s sugar. The protein in genuine cheese (i.e. not “American” cheese) has already been digested by the enzymatic process involved in the cheese-making process. So, I am able to continue my pizza habit.
    The same goes for small quantities of ice cream. (The theory is that the high fat content in it slows down the aborbtion of it’s pesky proteins.)
    As for all my other favorite food which I used to enjoy daily, the malted milks, the donuts, the cakes and pastries……..well, since the age of about 27 I’ve been out of luck.

    If it is confirmed that you do posess either lactose intolerance (for which there are remedies; also you should be able to tolerate yogourt and kefir, in which the lactose is pre-digested), the news isn’t all bad.

    Being kept away from one’s favorite foods can have the side benefit of never having to worry about going on a diet!

    If I hadn’t personally developed an intolerance to milk in my 20’s, by now I’d probably weigh 200 kilo’s!

  2. Doug Helms says:

    omg, I’m sorry to have run on for so long, Mika! I’m in the midst of breaking a decades long nicotine habit, and I seem to have lost my mind!

  3. Jiju says:

    Anamika, are you really sure you have lactose intolerance? You have had milk all those years as a child until you became 17 0r 18yrs. I somehow don’t feel that convinced. Is it some fabrication by some doc? For instance, doctors could not figure out that I had photosensitivity and gave me moisturisers and the vitamin tablets for a long time, while I suffered silently with my problem each time we went on vacation. I too have an opinion that butter and ghee are just fat because they say skimmed milk has the same amount of calcium as whole milk.

  4. poupee97 says:

    Doug and Jiju: You both may be right, but… if I bloat up after having dairy products and it goes away if I abstain from dairy products and this happens repeatably for years… then whatever the exact nature of the problem may be, it still means I can’t have dairy. Sigh.

    By the way, I did go to a doc and he did do an endoscopy along with a biopsy, which was a horrible experience I’d much rather not have had to undergo. They found nothing. Sigh.

  5. poupee97 says:

    Doug and Jiju: I did a bit of research on Lactose intolerance and found that it is actually very common. Doug, I don’t get cold-like symptoms, only gastrointestinal symptoms. Jiju, it’s not related to the calcium content of dairy products. Butter and ghee do have less lactose, but it’s not that they don’t have any. Yogurt, especially commercial yogurt, not homemade, ice cream, and processed cheese of the kind we usually get, have plenty of lactose. Commercial yogurt has added milk solids! And ice cream, 200gm of it, has as much lactose as a whole glass of milk!

    The info below is from Wikipedia:

    Dairy product Serving size Lactose content
    Milk, regular 250 mL 12 g
    Milk, reduced fat 250 mL 13 g
    Yogurt, plain, regular 200 g 9 g
    Yogurt, plain, low-fat 200 g 12 g
    Cheddar cheese 30 g .02 g
    Cottage cheese 30 g .1 g
    Butter 1 tsp .03 g
    Ice cream 50 g 3 g

    The only things that I should be able to tolerate should be butter and “genuine” cheese (in small quantities). I usually eat butter only in cake, so I probably eat 30-50 gms at a time, which is a lot! Pizza cheese – I have no idea whether it is made the “right” way or not.

    Anyway, the information is interesting, but the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating, and the fact remains that when I eat dairy, I’m in trouble.

    But… I carried my lactase enzyme tablets to Italy and indulged a bit and survived! 🙂

  6. traceyhealth says:

    Your not alone.

    I have had to give up roast potatoes. They are not the same with olive oil. Baking? I had to give that up ages ago! No more, bakewells, easter cookies, shortbread and my perfected sponge!

    I suffer from Migraine Hemiplegia and dairy has proven a main trigger.

    It is toture sometimes.

    The peace in my brain is, a lot of the times, the only thing that prevents me from giving in to dairy.

    I can only suggest alternatives to ingredients at your early stage of discovering your problem. Almond, Rice and Oat Milk alternatives are now readily available. Some with calcium added to them. Even Tropicana has an orange juice available with added calcium.

    With regards to everything else? It does get harder and constant research is a must. Sometimes you come across gems f information that can make a difference. I read today, that you can add a particular liquid to milk to help you digest it better.

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  8. Erynn Szewczyk says:

    As for the things you are giving up… pizza is still awesome without cheese. And it’s very easy to bake sweets and cakes without butter and milk. Try subbing coconut oil, or another oil for butter, and almond or coconut milk for milk. Some recipes don’t even call for dairy at all. My son and I have been nearly completely dairy free going on 6 years now. There’s over 30different dairy intolerances and allergies.

    Also, we have discovered sheep cheese. This might be an alternative for you, if your willing to try. My favor sheep cheese is made in Poland, and it’s like a cream cheese. 😉

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your comment, Erynn. This post was written almost six years ago. Since then, the lactose intolerance has disappeared and it turns out I’m gluten intolerant instead – and also intolerant to egg white. The funny thing is, I’m now used to life without pizza and pasta and the only cake I eat is homemade gluten-free, eggless cake.But you’re right – being lactose intolerant or gluten intolerant is not the end of the world. There are ways around everything.

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