Lactose Intolerance and Celiac Disease

I was born with a milk allergy. The difference between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance is protein vs sugar. If you have a milk allergy you are allergic to the protein(s) found in milk. If you are lactose intolerant your digestive track has trouble breaking down the lactose (the sugar found in milk), causing discomfort, bloating and diarrhea (or at least that was my experience). Growing up my doctor never believed I had a milk allergy. He always told me I was lactose intolerant because it was the same thing (it isn’t). Looking back I think that is odd. Not only because he didn’t seem to know the difference between an allergy and an intolerance, but also that he never bothered to test me for either.

When I was 16, he sent me for an allergy test. Not because of milk, but because of environmental allergies; they were getting out of hand. Guess what I found out… I was allergic to milk (vindicated). I discussed this with my doctor and once again he dismissed me by telling me it was the same thing. As an adult I would have just got a new doctor (and eventually I did), as a kid, you tend to stay with your family doctor.

In my 20’s I was once again tested for allergies and this time I was negative for a milk allergy. The allergist told me it is not unusual for babies/kids to outgrow their milk allergy. This made sense, but I was having trouble digesting milk. It was suggested that I have a lactose intolerance test. My family doctor dismissed my request because he assumed all along that I was, and well… I should just believe him. So I found it confusing that I could be unlucky enough to be born with an allergy, grow out of it (which is common), then develop lactose intolerance (undiagnosed).

When I hit my 30’s tolerating milk became even more difficult. When I was in my 20’s I could still digest sour cream, yogurt, ice cream, chocolate milk (never understood that one), and cheese. Now 30 something and I can’t seem to tolerate any dairy. So frustrating!

Then comes the celiac diagnosis in 2009. While learning as much as I could I read there was a link between celiac and lactose intolerance. Now I’m thinking, how long have I been a celiac. If my milk intolerance was getting worse, I figure, I would have tested positive for celiac in my early 20’s, had my doctor sent me for testing.

So why is there a link between celiac and lactose intolerance?

I have been doing some research and have found the following information on Beyond Celiac.

  • In newly diagnosed celiac disease patients, secondary lactose intolerance is common due to the loss of lactase, an enzyme that digests milk sugar along the lining of the small intestine
  • The damage that gluten causes in the small intestine is the main factor in the lack of lactase for people with celiac disease
  • While following a strict gluten-free diet, the gut is able to heal, making lactose intolerance temporary in most celiac disease patients” To read full article click here.

This makes absolute sense to me. Here I am with damage in my small intestine from gluten, and unable to digest milk. Guess what? After several years of being on a gluten free diet, I started to be able to digest more dairy. Today (mid 40s), I can digest small amounts of just about any form of dairy. I have to be careful not to overdo it because of my IBS (dairy is one of my triggers). So my battle with milk has been a long one (since birth). From an allergy to the protein found in milk, to secondary lactose intolerance caused by celiac disease, and finally as a trigger of IBS symptoms. I guess I am not meant to enjoy dairy!

Keep in mind that some celiacs will remain lactose intolerant. There is no guarantee that a strict gluten free diet will reverse your intolerance to dairy. I can’t be sure I am not lactose intolerant. I just choose to believe any symptoms I have from dairy are from my IBS. I really should get tested.

How is lactose intolerance diagnosed?

According to the Mayo Clinic

Your doctor might suspect lactose intolerance based on your symptoms and your response to reducing the amount of dairy foods in your diet. Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis by conducting one or more of the following tests:

  • Hydrogen breath test. After you drink a liquid that contains high levels of lactose, your doctor measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath at regular intervals. Breathing out too much hydrogen indicates that you aren’t fully digesting and absorbing lactose.
  • Lactose tolerance test. Two hours after drinking a liquid that contains high levels of lactose, you’ll undergo blood tests to measure the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. If your glucose level doesn’t rise, it means your body isn’t properly digesting and absorbing the lactose-filled drink.” Read the full article here.

I hope this information was helpful to you. Are you celiac and lactose intolerant? Feel free to leave comments below or join my Facebook page and start a discussion (hit icon on the top right corner of blog).

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