What is lactase? Why do we need it?
Lactase is a naturally occurring enzyme located in the small intestines. Its function is to digest lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk.
People who do not produce enough lactase have an impaired ability to digest milk and may be diagnosed as being lactose intolerant. Approximately 20 percent of the adult population in the United States is lactose intolerant.
Lactase supplements are usually taken to treat the symptoms of lactose intolerance, such as diarrhea, indigestion, heartburn, and irritable bowel syndrome.
How much lactase should I take?
Because lactase is a naturally occurring substance produced by the body, little research has been conducted into the exact amount a lactase-individual should take. In addition, the degree of lactose intolerance can vary widely between people, so larger amounts may be needed by some people to ameliorate the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
What forms of lactase are available?
Lactase drops are available at some nutrition stores and from health care providers. They are often added to milk approximately 24 hours before drinking to remove levels of lactose in the milk. Lactase capsules and tablets can also be taken orally by people immediately before a meal that contains dairy products or other items high in lactose. The amount of lactase to be taken depends on the individual's intolerance to lactose and the amount of lactose-containing foods to be eaten.
What can happen if I take too much lactase? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?
Because it is produced by the body, lactase is considered extremely safe. As of this writing, no known side-effects or drug interactions have been noted with lactase supplementation. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking lactase or any other dietary supplement or herbal remedy.
- Arola H, Tamm A. Metabolism of lactose in the human body. Scand J Gastroenterol 1994;29 (Suppl 202):21-25.
- Arrigoni E, Marteau P, Briet F, et al. Tolerance and absorption of lactose from milk and yogurt during short-bowel syndrome in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;60:926-929.
- Carraccio A, Montalto G, Cavera G, et al. Lactose intolerance and self-reported milk intolerance: Relationship with lactose maldigestion and nutrient intake. J Am Coll Nutr 1998;17:631-636.
- Gudmand-Hoyer E. The clinical significance of disaccharide maldigestion. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59(3):735S-741S.
- 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;43:2513ø7.