Should lactose intolerant people avoid milk and other dairy foods?

Should lactose intolerant people avoid milk and other dairy foods?

Pawel Malczewski
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Short summary

Not being able to absorb lactose due to the insufficient presence of the enzyme lactase, does not automatically mean that lactose intolerance symptoms will manifest when consuming lactose-containing products. For a quick answer click here.

Explanation

Recent studies have shown that, although about 70% of the world population does not produce sufficient lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose, making its components available for absorption) the symptoms of lactose intolerance may not necessary occur.

It has been shown that some lactose intolerant people can still drink a cup of milk with food and experience no side effects. Some studies found evidence that many lactose intolerant patients can drink 1-2 glasses of milk per day with no side effects. (1)Matthews SB, Waud LP, Roberts AG, Campbe AK. Systemic lactose intolerance: a new perspective on an old problem. Postgrad Med J 2005;81:167-173. Available here. (2)Suarez FL, Savaiano D, Arbisi P, Levitt MD. Tolerance to the daily ingestion of two cups of milk by individuals claiming lactose intolerance. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 May;65(5):1502-6. Available here.

Currently, lactose intolerance tests involve ingesting 50g of lactose (equivalent to 1 liter of cow’s milk) followed by the measurement of hydrogen in the breath. However, such a large dose of lactose on its own, with no other nutrients, may cause mild symptoms even in healthy individuals. Even if these tests show that you are lactose intolerant it does not mean that you cannot tolerate some milk or other dairy products. (3)Matthews SB, Waud LP, Roberts AG, Campbe AK. Systemic lactose intolerance: a new perspective on an old problem. Postgrad Med J 2005;81:167-173. Available here.

Usually, the symptoms occur when more than 1 glass of milk is consumed or lactose is ingested on its own without any other nutrients. (4)Clinical Implications of Lactose Malabsorption Versus Lactose Intolerance. Available here. (5)Lomer MC, Parkes GC, Sanderson JD. Review article: lactose intolerance in clinical practice – myths and realities. Article first published online: 23 OCT 2007. Available here.

NOTE: In cases of severe lactose intolerance (when your body produces very little lactase) symptoms occur after just a minimal amount of lactose intake. In such cases, it is safer to adopt a lactose free diet. It will take some time to research and become accustomed to it, but after some weeks or months, it can be life transforming.

Conclusion

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Milk and other dairy products have many health benefits and contribute a wide range of nutrients to our diet. If you are lactose intolerant, rather than excluding such a valuable food group from your diet, discover your lactose threshold. Request your local health professional to help you find how much and what type of dairy products you can eat in one meal without experiencing side effects.

References   [ + ]

1. Matthews SB, Waud LP, Roberts AG, Campbe AK. Systemic lactose intolerance: a new perspective on an old problem. Postgrad Med J 2005;81:167-173. Available here.
2. Suarez FL, Savaiano D, Arbisi P, Levitt MD. Tolerance to the daily ingestion of two cups of milk by individuals claiming lactose intolerance. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 May;65(5):1502-6. Available here.
3. Matthews SB, Waud LP, Roberts AG, Campbe AK. Systemic lactose intolerance: a new perspective on an old problem. Postgrad Med J 2005;81:167-173. Available here.
4. Clinical Implications of Lactose Malabsorption Versus Lactose Intolerance. Available here.
5. Lomer MC, Parkes GC, Sanderson JD. Review article: lactose intolerance in clinical practice – myths and realities. Article first published online: 23 OCT 2007. Available here.

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