Is There A Link Between Lactose Intolerance And Your Bone Health?

Bones are made up of calcium and collagen, which provide a flexible framework for the bone. Interestingly, the teeth and bones contain approximately 99% of the body's calcium levels. Strong bones provide structural support for our bodies and are essential for maintaining mobility and independence as we age. Therefore, it is important to look after your bones by engaging in regular physical activity and eating a balanced diet that includes enough calcium and vitamin D.

Calcium is commonly found in dairy like milk, cheese, and yogurt — however, dairy is known for having high amounts of lactose, ​​a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products. When lactose is consumed, it is broken down into glucose and galactose by an enzyme called lactase. Some individuals cannot digest lactose properly, and this is a condition commonly referred to as lactose intolerance. This causes a range of symptoms, including bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea when lactose is consumed. Some people believe that lactose intolerance may hurt bone health, but how true is this assumption? Let's take a look at the facts.

Does lactose intolerance affect your bone health?

While lactose intolerance is not directly linked to bone health, avoiding dairy products may negatively impact bone health. This claim is reiterated in a 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients. According to the study, calcium is an important nutrient for building and maintaining strong bones, and dairy products are a major source of this nutrient in the diet. Without adequate calcium and vitamin D intake, the risk of developing osteoporosis — a condition in which the bones become fractured — may increase. Calcium intake is particularly important for children and adolescents who require adequate calcium and vitamin D intake for proper bone growth and development. It's also critical for older adults who may be at increased risk of osteoporosis, according to the study. If you're at increased risk for osteoporosis or have a history of bone fractures, it may help to talk to a nutritionist about dietary recommendations and calcium supplementation.

How to improve bone health if you have lactose intolerance

Maintaining good bone health is important for everyone. If you're lactose intolerant, there are many low-lactose dairy products available, such as lactose-free milk or yogurt. These products may be tolerable, depending on how severe your symptoms are. Various non-dairy sources of calcium can be incorporated into the diet, such as leafy green vegetables (including kale and broccoli), canned fish with bones (such as salmon), and calcium-fortified foods (juices and cereals), per WebMD. These foods can provide calcium without lactose.

Getting adequate vitamin D is also important for bone health, as it helps the body absorb calcium. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, but it can also be obtained from foods, like fatty fish. Your healthcare provider may recommend vitamin D supplements if you have low levels or if you're at increased risk of deficiency.

Engaging in weight-bearing exercises is another way to improve bone health. Physical activity — particularly exercises, such as walking, jogging, and resistance training — can help improve bone density and strength. However, consult your doctor before engaging in any intense workouts.