Lactose intolerance is the body’s inability to digest milk and milk products. A large number of people are familiar with it – that bloated feeling that you get or the urge to visit the toilet immediately after you take milk or anything that contains milk.
In fact a large percentage of the population all around the world suffers from lactose intolerance. Studies have shown that in the US alone, 15% of Caucasians suffer it, over 50% of Mexican Americans, and over 80% of African Americans have lactose intolerance as well, (between 30 and 50 million Americans) pretty high numbers for one country alone.
What causes lactose intolerance?
Your stomach lining is naturally supposed to produce an enzyme called lactase which is used to break down lactose, the major sugar in milk. When we are babies, our lactase levels are highest but as we grow older, they get less and less. The less they are, the more you are likely to suffer lactose intolerance.
When you take in milk or milk products, they are not broken down into absorbable form – sugar, glucose and galactose. What happens is that the milk will get to your stomach and pass through to the small intestines untouched, and it will either cause you to bloat or have diarrhoea. There are other symptoms as well; you’ll get stomach pains cramping and may feel nauseated.
How do Probiotics Deal with Lactose Intolerance?
In many probiotics, you will find lactase, which we have seen is the basic enzyme that breaks down milk. Probiotics in themselves contain bacteria that are beneficial to the body, but do not occur naturally or get depleted for one reason or another. The absence of these bacteria means that your body is less able to protect itself from infection and you will have gastric as well as other internal problems.
When these beneficial live bacteria are introduced in the body in the form of probiotic supplements, they adhere to the stomach lining and release the lactase which they contain. This means that when milk or milk products get to the lining, they will find the necessary enzymes to digest them.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 61, 587 people between the ages of 50-76 said that the top reason why they used probiotics containing acidophilus was for lactose intolerance. The survey was done between 2000-2002. This is a significant finding because the older we grow, the more lactose intolerant we become. At middle age, you are lucky if you have any lactase enzymes being naturally produced at all. By the time you are 70, you will not be able to digest lactose naturally, and thus the preference for probiotics to help with lactose intolerance.
Not all cases of lactose intolerance can be helped by probiotics however.
So yes, some people will get help with lactose intolerance from probiotics, but not all. The best way to go about it is to look for a probiotic that specifically contains some kinds of bacteria:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Streptococcus salivarius
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Streptococcus thermophilus
These particular strains have been known best to help many people with lactose intolerance, otherwise not just any probiotic will do.
- Cathy Wong – What is Lactose Intolerance?
- Cathy Wong – Acidophilus and Other Probiotics
- Do probiotics reduce adult lactose intolerance? A systematic review – APPLIED EVIDENCE: New research findings that are changing clinical practice
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association