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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Lactose Intolerance (Holistic)
Take over-the-counter products containing lactase enzyme when consuming foods containing lactose
Take a calcium supplement providing 500 to 1,000 mg per day regularly if you avoid dairy products
Try using reduced-lactose milk or yogurt to see if you can tolerate them
Lactose intolerance is the impaired ability to digest lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in milk). The enzyme lactase is needed to digest
lactose, and a few children and many adults do not produce sufficient lactase to digest the milk sugar. The
condition is rare in infants.
Only one-third of the population worldwide retains the ability to digest lactose into adulthood. Most
adults of Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Native American descent are lactose intolerant. In addition,
half of Hispanics and about 20% of Caucasians do not produce sufficient lactase as adults.1
A simple test for lactose intolerance is to drink at least two 8-ounce glasses of milk on an empty stomach
and note any gastrointestinal symptoms that develop in the next four hours. The test should then be repeated
using several ounces of cheese (which does not contain much lactose).
If symptoms result from milk but not cheese, then the person probably has lactose intolerance. If symptoms
occur with both milk and cheese, the person may be allergic to dairy products (very rarely can lactose
intolerance be so severe that even eating cheese will cause symptoms). In addition to gastrointestinal
problems, one study has reported a correlation in women between lactose intolerance and a higher risk of depression and PMS.2 However, this study is only
preliminary and does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
In people with lactose intolerance, consuming foods containing lactose results in intestinal cramps, gas, and diarrhea.
Although symptoms of lactose intolerance are triggered by the lactose in some dairy products, few lactose-intolerant people need to avoid all dairy. Dairy products have varying levels of lactose, which affects how much lactase is required for proper digestion. Milk, ice cream, and yogurt contain significant amounts of lactose—although for complex reasons yogurt often does not trigger symptoms in lactose-intolerant people. In addition, lactose-reduced milk is available in some supermarkets and may be used by lactose-intolerant people.
Many people with lactose maldigestion tolerate more lactose in experimental studies than in everyday life, in which their symptoms may result from other carbohydrates as well. Sucrose and the indigestible carbohydrates lactulose and fructooligosaccharides (FOS) have all been shown to produce symptoms in lactose-intolerant and milk-intolerant people.
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Caution: Calcium supplements should be avoided by prostate cancer patients.
Researchers have yet to clearly determine whether lactose-intolerant people absorb less calcium. As lactose-containing foods are among the best dietary sources of calcium, alternative sources of calcium (from beverages, foods, or supplements) are important for lactose-intolerant people. A typical amount of supplemental calcium is 1,000 mg per day.
Supplemental sources of the enzyme lactase may be used to prevent symptoms of lactose intolerance when consuming lactose-containing dairy products. Lactase drops may be added to regular milk 24 hours before drinking to reduce lactose levels. Lactase drops, capsules, and tablets may also be taken orally, as needed, immediately before a meal that includes lactose-containing dairy products. The degree of lactose intolerance varies by individual, so a greater or lesser amount of oral lactase may be needed to eliminate symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Double-blind research has shown that avoidance of lactose (present in milk and some other dairy products) by people with IBS who are also lactose intolerant will relieve IBS symptoms. Alternatively, lactase enzyme may be used prior to consuming milk. Several different lactase products are commercially available and the amount needed depends on the specific preparation being used.
If lactose intolerance is the cause of diarrhea, supplemental use of lactase prior to consuming milk or milk-containing products can be helpful.Cheese rarely has enough lactose to cause symptoms in lactose-intolerant people. Lactase products are available that can be chewed while drinking milk or added to milk directly.
1. Gudmand-Hoyer E. The clinical significance of disaccharide maldigestion. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59(3):735S-41S.
2. Ledochowski M, Sperner-Unterweger S, Fuchs D. Lactose malabsorption is associated with early signs of mental depression in females: a preliminary report. Dig Dis Sci 1998;43:2513-7.
Last Review: 06-05-2015
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