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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.
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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. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. 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 2016.