Got milk intolerance? U.S. experts say it's unclear

Wed Feb 24, 2010 5:10pm EST
 
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many Americans believe they have lactose intolerance and thus avoid dairy products, but no one really knows whether they are damaging their health, experts told a national conference on Wednesday.

In fact, no one has even done the research needed to tell how many people have actual lactose intolerance, which makes it difficult or impossible for them to digest milk, cheese or yogurt, the experts told a "consensus conference" at the National Institutes of Health, a meeting called to define the state of science.

"I think that there are huge gaps in knowledge," Dr. Frederick Suchy of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who led the meeting, told a news conference.

"There is a huge amount of research that needs to be done."

And while there is a great deal of worry that people who avoid dairy are missing out on calcium and vitamin D that can keep their bones strong, minimize high blood pressure and perhaps even prevent some cancer, there is no evidence this is in fact the case, Suchy said.

Many new products claim to help people with lactose intolerance drink milk without bloating, cramps, diarrhea and other ill effects but no one has studied those, either, Suchy said.

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED

Calcium and vitamin fortified orange juice, soy milks and other products should, in theory, provide the nutrients, he said.   Continued...