What is Lactase?
Your lactose-degrading enzyme.
\ ˈlak-ˌtās , -ˌtāz \
Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down a dairy-based sugar called lactose into the simple sugars galactose and glucose.
Although the body’s small intestines typically produce lactase to digest dairy foods (e.g. cheese, milk, and ice cream), research has shown that at least 15% of Americans are lactose intolerant. That number increases to approximately 75% worldwide, signifying that the vast majority of people produce little or no lactase and cannot process the lactose in dairy products.
Downright Difficult Dairy Digestion
If you’ve ever experienced difficulty digesting dairy, you know it isn’t fun. According to the peer-reviewed medical journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, lactose intolerance may be caused by genetic factors, intestinal tissue damage from a bacterial or viral infection, or an autoimmune inflammatory response.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance are:
Similarly, the digestive issues from lactose sensitivity are as follows:
- Excessive belching
- Hydrogen production
Thankfully, research has shown that lactase supplementation can improve lactose intolerance or sensitivity to dairy (not to be confused with an allergy to dairy, which is not related to lactose), limiting some of the aforementioned gastrointestinal discomforts.
A Children’s Study of Pre-mixed Lactase and Milk
A study published in the medical journal Pediatrics (by the American Academy of Pediatrics) evaluated whether taking lactase supplements could improve digestive discomfort for 27 children who demonstrated lactose intolerance to whole milk. Two types of lactase were used: one was extracted from Kluyveromyces lactis yeast, and the other was extracted from Aspergillus oryzae yeast.
The children consumed either whole cow’s milk along with one of the lactase supplements or milk that was pre-mixed with a lactase enzyme.
When given the pre-mixed milk, 25 of the 27 children showed no signs of indigestion. Similarly, the children who consumed the whole milk along with a lactase supplement experienced improved digestive symptoms, demonstrating that both types of lactase significantly disrupted hydrogen production.
An Adult Study of Pre-mixed Lactase and Milk
Another study assessed the potential digestive benefits of 25 adults who were lactose intolerant and consumed pre-mixed milk and lactase. In this study, published in Gastroenterology, the individuals were given 1 gram of the Kluyveromyces lactis-derived enzyme, LactAid.
Remarkably, the study found that adding lactase to the milk in as little as five minutes before it was consumed led to significant improvements in intolerance symptoms as well as a decrease in hydrogen production. This is meaningful because excess hydrogen production is the primary cause of digestive issues like gas, bloating, and belching.
A Children’s Study of Lactase Tablet Supplementation
Finally, a clinical trial documented in the American Journal of Diseases of Children demonstrated that children with lactose intolerance who took a lactase tablet immediately before consuming a dairy solution experienced significantly less gas, abdominal pain, and bloating than those who were given the placebo. This shows that lactase supplementation targets lactose intolerance and the gastrointestinal discomfort caused by it.
In conclusion, taking the lactase enzyme in either liquid or tablet form improves the body’s ability to completely break down lactose, circumventing lactose-related digestive issues caused by consuming dairy. So go ahead and celebrate this discovery with a milkshake (and some lactase)!
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