Lactose Intolerance (Lactase Deficiency)

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder Anand, MD
woman with abdominal pain

Quick GuideAllergy List: Watch Out for the Most Common Food Allergies

Allergy List: Watch Out for the Most Common Food Allergies

What are the long-term consequences of lactose intolerance?

The important long-term health consequence of lactose intolerance is calcium deficiency that leads to osteoporosis. Less commonly, vitamin D deficiency may occur and compound the bone disease. Both of these health issues can be prevented easily by calcium and vitamin D supplements. The real problem is that many lactose intolerant people who consciously or unconsciously avoid milk do not realize that they need supplements.

What is new in lactose intolerance?

It is now possible to test the DNA of individuals to make a diagnosis of lactase deficiency. This is likely to be an important research tool for studying lactase deficiency. It is still too early to know how helpful this sophisticated test will be in the clinical evaluation and treatment of patients. It is an expensive test. Moreover, the test is not very good at distinguishing between lactase deficiency and lactose intolerance since the symptoms of lactose intolerance vary in severity among individuals. The important question to answer is, does lactose cause symptoms, and not, whether an individual is lactase deficient.

In 1998, scientists were able to make lactose intolerant rats tolerant to lactose by transferring the gene for lactase to their intestinal lining cells. It is unlikely that this type of gene therapy will find much of an application in people. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating example of what science can accomplish.

Medically reviewed by Martin E Zipser, MD; American Board of Surgery

REFERENCE: eMedicine.com. Lactose Intolerance.
<http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/187249-overview>

Previous contributing author Dennis Lee, M.D.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/3/2015

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