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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Can lactose intolerance be cured?

    I am towards the severe side of lactose intolerance. I have spoken with 2 dietitians this morning. One told me that once you are lactose intolerant you will always be. The other told me that there are ways to build up your natural enzymes again so you will be able to tolerate some lactose again.
    Who is correct?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

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    My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    In general lactose intolerance is a genetic condition. People with it do not have the gene which codes for an enzyme called lactase. The job of lactase is to break down lactose (which is a carbohydrate containing one molecule of glucose and one of galactose) into those individual sugars.

    The frequency of lactose intolerance depends on ethnic background - less than 5% of people whose ancestors came from Northern Europe have it while up to 90% of people whose ancestors came from Asia or Africa can have it.

    If you are lactose-intolerant (do not have the lactase gene) then there is no known treatment for it (ie, the first dietitian that you spoke with is right).

  • 1

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    Fumi Somehara

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Fumi is a dietitian (APD) specialising in Dancer's Health and Eating Disorders Treatment. Her work is grounded in Health At Every Size (R) and Non-Diet … View Profile

    Hi there,

    Have you had other issues, like gastroenteritis, chemotherapy, Coeliac disease or intestinal parasite infection? These can offen cause temporaly/transient lactose intolerance as the lining of the small intestine is damaged. In this case (and you otherwise don't have genetic lactose intolerance) the lactose intolerance is often temporal, and you will come back to normal in several weeks.

    If you're genetically lactose intolerant, then I agree with what Dr Simon has said.
    Although it can't be “cured”, you can definitely find your own threshold. Since intolerance isn't an allergy, everyone will have a different amount of lactose they can tolerate. A dietitian can help you determine this and provide you with alternatives if required.

    Hope that helps.

    Kind regards,

    Fumi

  • 2

    Agrees

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    Joy Anderson

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Joy is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist, as well as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has a special interest in … View Profile

    Note that all babies and young children can digest lactose but the majority of the world's people have the gene for lactase switched off at about 5 years of age. This is the age of expected weaning from breastfeeding from an anthropological point of view. Milk is basically a ‘baby food’.

    People of Northern European descent mostly retain the ability to digest lactose thoughout life, that is, their gene does not switch off. If you happen to be one of those whose gene is switched off, then the main way to boost your ability to digest lactose is to encourage the growth of species of bacteria in your bowel that can do this for you. Consuming small amounts of lactose-containing foods can help with this. It seems there is also a limited ability for lactase production from your own body by eating lactose, but it is very limited in those whose gene has been switched off.

    So in some sense, both the dietitians were correct!

    Note that many people mix up lactose intolerance and cows'-milk-protein intolerance. These are very different. If you can tolerate hard cheese but not milk, then it is likely you have lactose intolerance as cheese contains virtually no lactose. However, if cheese is a problem, then it is likely to be a reaction to the protein in the dairy products.

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