While that little milk mustache may look cute in dairy advertisements, it is anything but cute to the 40 million Americans who suffer some level of lactose intolerance. For those who suffer from this condition a simple glass of milk can lead to severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence and bloating. Symptoms usually occur within one hour after ingesting milk or certain other dairy products.

People with lactose intolerance have trouble digesting lactose, the natural sugar found in dairy foods. The intolerance is caused by a deficiency in a particular enzyme (lactase) that the body uses to digest sugar.

Although there is nothing you can do to improve your body’s ability to produce lactase, there are things you can do to control the symptoms. The treatment for lactose intolerance includes avoiding dairy products (especially milk) using a lactase enzyme supplement and including lactose-free or lactose-reduced products in the diet.

Lactase enzyme supplements contain the enzyme that breaks down lactose. Lactase capsules and tablets can be taken orally immediately before eating a meal that contains lactose. Lactase drops can be added to regular milk 24 hours before drinking milk to reduce the lactose levels. Millions of people have found that using the supplements eliminates or significantly reduces the unpleasant symptoms of lactose intolerance so that they are able to include milk and other dairy foods in their diets.

Probiotic supplements can also be beneficial to people who suffer from lactose intolerance. Probiotics are active organisms that live in your intestines and help maintain a healthy digestive system. When used daily, they can help restore and maintain healthy flora in the intestinal tract so that you are less prone to gastric upsets.

Although milk and foods made from milk are the only natural sources of lactose, it is often “hidden” in prepared foods to which it has been added. People who have a low tolerance for lactose need to be aware of the many food products that may contain lactose, even in small amounts. Some of those include processed breakfast cereals, instant potatoes, instant soups, lunch meats, salad dressings and mixes for pancakes, biscuits and cookies. Some products that are labeled as nondairy (such as powdered coffee creamer and whipped toppings) may also include ingredients that are derived from milk. Lactose is also used in the manufacture of certain types of medications.

In planning meals, people with lactose intolerance should make sure that each day’s diet includes enough calcium. Many non-dairy foods are high in calcium, including dark green vegetables such as broccoli or fish with soft, edible bones, such as salmon and sardines. A holistic dietician can help you plan meals that maximize your calcium intake without adding dairy to your diet.