Lactase is the enzyme in the small intestine that digests lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in milk).
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Diarrhea and Lactose Intolerance
6000-9000 IU tablets chewed with a lactose-containing meal or 1000 IU in liquid form added to 8 ounces of milk before drinking.
If you think you may suffer from lactose intolerance, supplementing with digestive enzyme–containing lactase when drinking or eating milk products may help.
If lactose intolerance is the cause of diarrhea, supplemental use of lactase prior to consuming milk or milk-containing products can be helpful.1Cheese 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.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Lactose Intolerance
6,000 to 9,000 IU tablets chewed with a meal containing lactose, or add 1,000 IU in liquid form to 8 ounces of milk
Lactase enzymes taken prior to consuming milk or dairy products may help ease IBS symptoms.
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.2 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.
6,000 to 9,000 IU tablets chewed with a lactose-containing meal or add 1,000 IU in liquid form to 8 ounces of milk
Lactase drops, capsules, and tablets may be used to prevent symptoms of lactose intolerance when consuming lactose-containing dairy products.
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.3
Lactose-reduced milk is available and can be used in the same quantities as regular milk. Lactase drops can be added to regular milk 24 hours before drinking to reduce lactose levels. Lactase drops, capsules, and tablets can also be taken directly, 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 lactase may be needed to eliminate symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Lactase is produced by the body. 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 doesn’t trigger symptoms in lactose-intolerant people.
Only one-third of all people retain the ability to digest lactose into adulthood. Most individuals of Asian, African, and Native American descent are lactose intolerant. In addition, half of Hispanics and about 20 percent of Caucasians do not produce lactase as adults.4
Some, but not all, studies suggest that lactose-intolerant individuals absorb less calcium.5
1. Montes RG, Perman JA. Lactose intolerance. Postgrad Med 1991;89:175-84 [review].
2. Bohmer CJ, Tuynman HA. The clinical relevance of lactose malabsorption in irritable bowel syndrome. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 1996;8:1013-6.
3. Gudmand-Hoyer E. The clinical significance of disaccharide maldigestion. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59(3):735S-41S.
4. Gudmand-Hoyer E. The clinical significance of disaccharide maldigestion. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59(3):735S-41S.
5. Wheadon M, Goulding A, Barbezat GO, et al. Lactose malabsorption and calcium intake as risk factors for osteoporosis in elderly New Zealand women. NZ Med J 1991;104:417-9.
Last Review: 07-08-2014
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.
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