Lactaid Pills: A Solution To Lactose Intolerance?

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It’s surprising but over 65% of the world’s population have a diminished ability to digest lactose after early childhood (1).

While this intolerance is most common in East Asia, it affects people all over the world after their infancy (2).

Despite the widespread prevalence of lactose intolerance, dairy remains part of many people’s diet.

This article will look at a possible solution for lactose intolerance known as Lactaid pills.

First, we’ll examine what lactose intolerance is, and then move on to a review of Lactaid pills.

What is Lactose?

Lactose is the main sugar in milk and dairy products. As mentioned, many people cannot digest this sugar efficiently after infancy.

This change is specifically because of the enzyme called lactase—or the loss of it.

What is Lactase?

In brief, lactase is a digestive enzyme responsible for breaking lactose down into digestible simple sugars.

After our formative years, many humans lose the ability to produce the lactase enzyme.

As a result of not producing enough lactase, people cannot efficiently digest lactose in milk (3).

However, cultures with a long milk-drinking culture have developed a condition called ‘lactase persistence.’ This status refers to people who do not lose the ability to produce the lactase enzyme.

Lactase persistence is most widespread in Europe. In particular, the British have a high rate of lactase persistence; between 85-95% (2, 4, 5, 6).

On the other hand, the rate of lactase persistence in East Asia is only 5-10% of the population (2).

Seeing that lactase deficiency is the cause of lactose intolerance, several companies have developed products containing lactase.

Lactaid pills are one of these products.

Key Point: Lactase is a digestive enzyme that breaks down lactose in the body. Usually, lactase deficiency is the cause of lactose intolerance.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

One of the interesting things about lactose intolerance is that many people have no idea they are suffering from it.

With this in mind, what should you look out for?

Fortunately, lactose intolerance has numerous ways of presenting itself; it’s just a matter of spotting them.

To point out a few of the common symptoms:

  • Bloated stomach
  • Stomach pain/cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Gas
  • Acne
  • Chronic fatigue/lethargy

Generally speaking, these symptoms occur between 30 minutes and 2 hours after eating.

They can also range in severity from mild to unbearable depending on the extent of the intolerance, and the amount of lactose consumed (7).

If you are suffering from any of these symptoms and don’t know the reason, it might be best to check with your doctor.

Lactose Intolerance vs. Milk Allergy

It’s worth bearing in mind that—despite sharing common symptoms—lactose intolerance and milk allergy are not the same conditions (8, 9).

Specifically, milk allergy symptoms can be much more severe and even cause an allergic reaction.

To repeat; if you are experiencing any adverse reactions to dairy products you should speak to your doctor.

Key Point: Lactose intolerance has many symptoms. However, one to watch for is digestive discomfort aorund 1-2 hours after consuming dairy.

Lactose Intolerance Diet

Lactose Intolerance Diet

In the event of lactose intolerance, people conventionally follow a lactose intolerance diet.

For the most part, this diet targets dairy products. In general, lactose-containing foods are either eliminated or reduced to a tolerable level.

For example, here are some foods that contain lactose:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Ice Cream
  • Yogurt
  • Cream Cheese
  • Heavy Cream
  • Butter/margarine with milk derivatives
  • Anything containing milk or milk derivatives
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Frequently, people still have some degree of tolerance for lactose (10, 11).

Therefore, lactose-containing foods can often be re-added to the diet after a short time following a lactose intolerance diet to recover.

If you try this, do it very slowly and gradually to find the level you can tolerate.

Unfortunately, some people are intolerant to even the slightest amount of lactose. In such cases, complete elimination of lactose is necessary.

Key Point: Not only should all dairy be cut out on a lactose intolerance diet, but also any foods that contain milk derivatives.

What is Lactaid?

What is Lactaid?

Lactaid is a brand that provides products to help lactose intolerant people consume dairy. In particular, Lactaid pills are becoming increasingly popular.

The question is: do they work?

A Medicine for Lactose Intolerance

Lactaid pills are, in reality, a kind of medicine for lactose intolerance. In essence, they are lactose intolerance pills.

Seeing that many people love dairy foods (any cheese is better than no cheese), demand is high for a solution. Additionally, other people worry about getting enough calcium from their diet without dairy.

The idea is that if you take these Lactaid pills alongside lactose-containing food, you can avoid the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Therefore—the manufacturers claim—the lactose intolerant have the freedom to eat the foods they want, whenever they want.

However, should we rely on a pill to eat the food we want? And could there be any side effects of Lactaid pills?

How Do Lactaid Pills Work

Lactaid pills contain the lactase enzyme, and owing to their active ingredient—work by breaking down the lactose in food.

Additionally, the manufacturers state the following about Lactaid Pills:

  • Lactaid pills contain the natural lactase enzyme and have an excellent safety profile.
  • Users should take a Lactaid pill with the first bite of their meal—not too soon or late.
  • Lactaid pills are safe to use every day, for every meal and every snack.

Assuming that the manufacturer’s claims are reality; Lactaid pills sound like the perfect solution to lactose intolerance.

However, as I’m sure you realize—manufacturers always say positive things about their products.

Therefore, let’s take a look at the actual evidence and whether or not Lactaid pills have any side effects.

Key Point: Lactaid pills work by supplying the body with the lactase enzyme, which breaks down lactose allowing it to be digested.

Do Lactaid Pills Work?

Do Lactaid Pills Work?

Rather than blindly trust the manufacturers, what do we know about how well Lactaid pills work?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a wealth of information available in the way of published studies. Thankfully there are a couple of resources we can use to get a better idea, though.

As part of this, we’ll take a look at several studies on lactase supplementation, as well as some online reviews.

Studies

There are a few studies on the use of supplemental lactase, which provide the following peer-reviewed findings:

  • In a 2010 study, the active ingredient in Lactase pills (tilactase) was compared to a probiotic supplement (Lactobacillus reuteri) and placebo. When given to lactose intolerant people, the lactase pills sharply improved gastrointestinal symptoms. Further, they improved these symptoms more significantly than Lactobacillus did (12).
  • A 2014 study showed a similar pattern. Following oral consumption of lactase pills; abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea were significantly reduced (13).

Lactaid Pills: Web MD User Reviews

Based on a total of 59 user reviews on Web MD, Lactaid Pills received the following rating out of 5 (14).

  • Effectiveness: 2.36
  • Ease of Use: 3.58
  • Satisfaction: 2.07

As we can see, the ratings for satisfaction and effectiveness are not especially reassuring. Looking through the comments, many users experience side effects such as sickness.

However, others say that the pill has been a great help and allowed them to eat what they want. In general, it’s a mixed bag of reviews.

Amazon User Reviews

On the other hand, Lactaid pills gain a much higher score on Amazon with a rating of 4.6/5.

While some of these reviews are almost perfect, others say that the product still made them very sick.

Key Point: Lactaid pills demonstrate positive benefits in the available studies. However, they receive mixed comments from user reviews. Given these points, it’s likely that Lactaid pills do have benefits for people suffering from lactose intolerance. On the negative side, these benefits apply to all users. Overall, it may be the case that those with a severe lactose intolerance don’t respond to the supplement the way that people with a mild intolerance do.

Side Effects: Are Lactaid Pills Safe?

Side Effects: Are Lactaid Pills Safe?

As with most supplements and medications, unfortunately, Lactaid pills can and do have side effects.

Having read through many reviews; stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting are some of the most commonly reported side effects.

Whether these side effects are due to the actual Lactaid pill itself is unclear. Instead, it could be that the pill didn’t work as well as expected, and the user experienced ill effects due to lactose intolerance.

Also, Web MD provides a more general side effect warning. “A severe allergic reaction to this drug is rare. However, get medical help right away if you notice any symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, including rash, itching, dizziness, trouble breathing” (15).

Key Point: While it appears Lactaid pills can have side effects, they are mild in most cases.

Non-Dairy Options: Substitutes For Milk

Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives

Providing you decide not to use Lactaid, are there any realistic alternatives for milk and dairy products as a whole?

The answer to that question is yes, but it depends on why you want a replacement—for calcium? Or to use as a substitute in the kitchen?

Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

Despite how prevalent the idea of dairy being essential for calcium is, there are many non-dairy sources of the mineral.

Here are just a few:

  • Seaweed: Kelp contains 15% of the daily calcium value per 100g (17)
  • Almonds: these nuts provide 26% of the daily value per 100g (18).
  • Sardines contain 38% of the daily calcium value per 100g, in addition to omega-3 (19).
  • Brazil Nuts provide roughly 16% of the daily recommended value per 100g (20).
  • Spinach contains 9% of the daily recommended value per 100g (21).
  • Kale offers 15% of the daily recommended amount of calcium per 100g (22)
  • Chia Seeds provide 63% of the recommended daily calcium value per 100g (23).

As shown above, there are plenty of non-dairy sources of calcium.

Tasty Dairy Milk Replacements

As well as concerns over calcium, others just want a milk-type food that they can use.

In this case, I recommend the following three products:

Coconut Milk

In the first place, coconut milk looks identical to normal milk. The taste is quite different but has a similar creaminess to it.

It’s suitable for baking, drinks, tea/coffee, and in pretty much any food that contains regular milk.

Coconut Cream

Coconut cream is similar to the milk, with the only difference being a thicker, creamier consistency.

If you are confused about the difference between the two, the main point of differentiation is that coconut cream lacks the water. The cream is thick and like a paste (and much tastier, in my opinion!)

Almond Milk

While many milk substitutes (such as soy) are full of cheap additives, the quality of almond milk varies wildly.

Having said that, if you want to avoid all additives, then it’s probably better to make your own.

Key Point: Dairy is an excellent food group; it’s nutritious and extremely tasty, but it’s not essential. As can be seen, many substitutes for dairy are available.

Are Lactaid Pills A Solution To Lactose Intolerance?

Yes, they are… but not for everyone.

When it comes to nutrition, we should always remember that we are all biologically unique.

In short; what works for one might not work for another.

With this in mind; if you are lactose intolerant and wish to keep eating dairy, Lactaid pills might be worth a try.

Eat, monitor and adjust.

Listen to your body—it will let you know whether or not Lactaid pills are a good solution for you.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Michael,
    Great article. I especially like the non-dairy alternative. Coconut is abundant in Malaysia and other tropical countries. One can make COCONUT oil (MCT), milk, yoghurt, whey, kefir, sour cream, butter, etc. with it. It’s full of macro & micro nutrients such as lauric acids (close to Mother’s milk), caprylic/capric/myristic/palmitic/stearic/oleic/and linoleic acids; tocopheerol & tocotrienol, including vitamins and minerals. Dairy products also have casein that may cause celiac disease. My advice is do stay away from dairy (except if it’s raw and or fermented). A better choice is organic raw unpasteurized ghee. I make my own pasteurized ghee @ home (difficult to get organic unpasteurized & unsalted butter in Malaysia).
    Health & Happiness.
    “All Diseases Begin In The Gut” … Hippocrates, 460-370 BC
    My 2 cents. Be happy 😉

    • Hi Alan,

      Yes, I’m a little jealous about that – it would be nice to have lots of local fresh coconut products!

      I think staying away from dairy is probably necessary for many – but not all. Also sometimes fermented
      dairy is a lot better tolerated than milk.

      Organic raw ghee sounds a great choice, but like you said – it’s difficult to get hold of for many people.
      How does the ghee you made at home taste? That’s still something I’ve never tried so I should probably give
      it a go.

      Thanks for the comment – and have a great weekend!

  2. LCHF cured my L.I.

    I have been struggling with lactose intolerance for 16 years. Yes I’ve taken a lot of lactase tablets! (sometimes you need 2 for a meal). But I hated being dependent on them.

    I started LCHF about a month ago. I was nervous about giving up lactose-free milk and using cream. But to my amazement, no problems!

    Now I’m having heavy cream, sour cream, cream cheese and non-aged cheeses — without taking lactase tablets — and no gut pain afterwards! I feel like a normal person.

    Feels like a miracle. Was sugar the problem all along?

    (P.S. I take 1 good probiotic capsule a day, but I’ve been doing this for awhile. It helped my L.I. — but didn’t cure it.)

    • Hi Kristen,

      That’s great to hear! An interesting story too, and not so usual.

      There are reasons why your sudden lactose intolerance could have improved though, when our digestive system is in a stressed state then lactase is produce much less efficiently – which basically means lactose can’t be digested well.

      So maybe something about your previous diet could have been causing digestive distress. Another possibility involves gluten. As gluten sensitivity shares similar symptoms to lactose intolerance, these two often get wrongly mixed up… if you felt better after quitting grains, maybe there could be some relation? I suppose this one is unlikely after 16 years though.

      Anyway I’m happy you feel better after struggling for so long. Congratulations!

  3. Michael, you are absolutely right: lactase pills don’t work for everyone. Trying won’t hurt you, so if you are thinking about trying out lactase pills, go ahead. A lot of people are very happy with using these pills and it makes following a lactose-free diet a bit easier.

    • Thanks for commenting! Yes, typically their efficiency will depend on the person and the extent of their intolerance.
      If I was lactose intolerant though, I think I’d just give dairy up (as hard as that may seem for many people…)

  4. I am self diagnosed with a Lactase problem, found Lactaid many years ago and it worked wonders; been taking it religously with dairy for 30 years or so. Now all of a suden Lactaid is not working? Any solutions/suggestions?

    • Hi Duncan,

      If you’re self-diagnosed then I’d really recommend checking with a doctor just to make sure.

      30 years is a long time – it worked perfectly throughout that period? Lactase production declines naturally as we age, meaning there may now be a higher requirement, although that’s probably not it if it happened all of a sudden rather than progressively.

      • Hello – I am from Turkey and I have had Lactase intolerance for more than 30 years as well. I have been taking Lactaid during all those years and it worked for me. I also found out that I needed to take more tablets for more concentrated products (like ice cream). However, suddenly, I started having problems even though I am taking Lactaid. So, my question is: Can this medicine lose its effectiveness? Thank you for your help.

        Sincerely, Haluk Bilgen

        • Hi Haluk,

          It can – but it’s probably because of your body rather than the supplement.

          For example, everybody (even lactose intolerant people) has some level of lactase in their body (the enzyme that breaks down lactose).

          When you combine the supplement with the natural levels in your body, then usually people have enough enzymes to digest lactose.

          However, our lactase levels can fall quite a lot (and sometimes suddenly) in the aging process – this is why some people develop lactose intolerance at an older age.

          So, this is only speculation, but it might just be that your lactase levels have fallen a little and the amount of Lactaid you were previously taking isn’t enough now.

  5. Talking about lactase, I’m confused why so much mention is made of dairy products such as cheese and heavy cream that really have very little lactose. If these dairy items cause a problem, lactase won’t solve it. Another idea I consider a misconception, is the idea of removing milk from the diet for a period and then reintroducing it to see if there is a problem. Even in people with the lactase-persistence gene, there probably WILL be a problem because the intestines don’t squirt out lactase in response to lactose, they squirt it out in response to galactose, the simple sugar whose presence shows you are supposedly a child that is nursing. and this is exactly what you have stopped ingesting. This is why using a lactase product mixed with milk can restore endogenous lactase production–you’re drinking galactose and telling your physiology you need lactase because you are supposedly ingesting lactose! So, in a month or two, lactase production ramps back up and you don’t need the lactase supplement any more.

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