Link between celiac disease and lactose intolerance

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q. Is celiac disease linked with lactose intolerance? Can consuming dairy products trigger your lactose intolerance does it have a link between the two?

Answer


Yes, people with celiac disease frequently have lactose intolerance, especially upon diagnosis.

In celiac disease, an autoimmune response is triggered when gluten is ingested and causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. Damage to the intestinal lining can lead to the body’s inability to produce an enzyme called lactase. This is the enzyme that breaks down lactose. Lactose is the sugar in milk and dairy products. When lactose is not broken down by lactase in the small intestine, it gets fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, leading to symptoms such as:

Excessive gas

Bloating

Diarrhea

Constipation

Cramps

Nausea and vomiting

Once a gluten-free diet is followed and the intestine heals properly, some people are able to produce the lactase enzyme that breaks down lactose, and tolerate dairy foods again. However, some stay lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is common in adults because, as we age, the lactase enzyme production is reduced. Lactose intolerance may also vary greatly in severity with some people being able to still eat small amounts of dairy and others none at all.

Also, note that some people with celiac disease are sensitive to the proteins in dairy (dairy sensitivity), which is a separate issue, but it can cause similar symptoms to lactose intolerance.

If you are concerned about lactose intolerance, I would recommend that you discuss it with your healthcare provider. Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed with either a hydrogen breath test, or a lactose tolerance test.

You can read more on the treatment and management of lactose intolerance here:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lactose-intolerance/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20374238

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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