Think you're lactose intolerant? You might be wrong

Thu May 6, 2010 7:37am EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - If you've cut down on milk because you think your gut can't tolerate the sugar in it, you might be doing your health a disservice, according to a Spanish study.

Researchers from the Hospital Universitari Vall d'Hebron in Barcelona found more than half the patients who thought they couldn't digest lactose were mistaken.

When they drank a lactose solution that was equivalent to a

quart of milk in the lab, their gut absorbed the sugar normally and they experienced less cramping, gas and other bowel trouble than at home.

"There is extended belief among patients with abdominal symptoms that these are caused by lactose in dairy products," the researchers wrote in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

"Although one should think that symptom intensity has to be greater after a large lactose load than in daily life at home, our study shows just the opposite."

The ability to digest lactose depends on an enzyme in the gut called lactase. When there isn't enough of this enzyme, bacteria feast on the leftover sugar, producing lots of gasses in the process.

In contrast to this so-called lactose malabsorption or maldigestion, lactose intolerance refers to the symptoms -- for instance, flatulence and stomach pain -- that occur after ingesting lactose.

The new study adds to a body of evidence showing that perceived lactose intolerance may actually not be rooted in a biological inability to absorb the sugar.   Continued...

<p>Shoppers walk past the milk section at a Wal-Mart store in Santa Clarita, California in this April 1, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files</p>