The Health Benefits of Lactase Supplements

In This Article

lactase supplements
Jupiterimages Collection/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Lactase is a digestive enzyme that is involved in the breakdown of lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Lactase is produced naturally in the lining of the small intestine, but some people do not produce enough lactase on their own, a condition known as lactose intolerance.

People with lactose intolerance experience gastrointestinal symptoms including stomach cramps, diarrhea, gas, and bloating when they consume dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or ice cream. Taking lactase supplements along with dairy can help to reduce or prevent discomfort in people with lactose intolerance.

According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2019, roughly 70 percent of the global population are deficient in lactase. This is because our ability to digest dairy declines as we age. Babies produce high quantities of lactase as their diet is primarily milk, but, after age 2, our bodies naturally slow production of lactase.

Since dairy products are a major source of calcium, many people use lactase supplements to treat lactose intolerance and acquire the calcium needed to protect against conditions like osteoporosis. Crucial for building and maintaining healthy bones, calcium is also essential for blood clotting, proper functioning of muscles, and the sending and receiving of nerve signals.

Health Benefits

Although research on the use of lactase supplements is fairly limited, several studies suggest that taking lactase supplements may be of some benefit.

Lactose Intolerance

In a 2010 study published in European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, researchers assigned 60 people with lactose intolerance to one of three treatments: lactase supplements, supplements containing Lactobacillus reuteri (a type of probiotic), or a placebo.

The study results showed that both lactase supplements and L. reuteri were more effective than the placebo in reducing gastrointestinal symptoms brought on by the consumption of lactose. However, lactase supplements were significantly more effective than L. reuteri in reducing gas.

In addition, a 2005 report published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that lactase supplements can aid in the digestion of lactose among people with lactose intolerance.

Osteoporosis

For people who are lactose intolerant, taking lactase supplements with dairy can help them to meet their daily calcium requirements.

According to a 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients, lactose intolerance may lead to reduced bone density and fragility fractures when accompanied by decreased intake or avoidance of dairy.

However, researchers note that simple dietary approaches to building lactose tolerance, including supplementing with lactase, can help people with lactose intolerance consume the recommended three servings of dairy per day to ensure adequate nutrient intakes and optimal bone health.

Side Effects

Lactase supplements generally do not cause side effects, but they may trigger allergic reactions in some individuals. If you experience symptoms such as hives, difficulty breathing, and/or tightness in your chest after using lactase supplements, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Lactase supplements should not be used by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding as there is not enough information to ensure their safety.

Dosage and Preparation

Lactase supplements are typically sold as capsules or chewable tablets. The typical dose is 6,000 IU to 9,000 IU tablets chewed and swallowed at the start of a meal that contains lactose.

For people who are lactose intolerant, lactase supplements should be taken with the first bite of dairy and repeated after 20 to 30 minutes if continuing to eat dairy products such as during a long meal or a social occasion. If you delay taking it or forget a second dose when needed, you may experience gastrointestinal symptoms.

What To Look For

Widely available for purchase online, lactase supplements can be purchased in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Lactase supplements are sold under the brand name Lactaid and generic lactase enzyme supplements. In addition, lactase is often included in broad-spectrum digestive enzyme supplements, including vegan-friendly products, such as VeganZyme.

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration. Look for brands that have been certified by an independent third party, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab.

Other Questions

I'm taking lactase supplements but they don't seem to help. Why?

If you are taking lactase supplements when you eat dairy but still experience gastrointestinal upset, you may be taking them wrong. Make sure you take the supplement with the first bite of dairy food and repeat after 20 minutes to 30 minutes if you are still eating.

You also may be eating too large of a serving of dairy for the supplements to cover. Try eating smaller portions and see if that helps.

Another reason lactase may not work for you is that you may not be lactose intolerant. Some people are sensitive or allergic to milk proteins and taking lactase supplements will not help. Other people are sensitive to dietary fats, and dairy products like cheese and ice cream are high in fat.

If lactase supplements aren't working for you, talk to your doctor to determine the cause of your stomach upset.

What are other sources of calcium other than dairy?

While dairy products are a top source of calcium, it's possible to achieve adequate calcium intake without consuming dairy products. Therefore, the use of lactase supplements may not be necessary for people with lactose intolerance. Non-dairy sources of calcium include:

  • calcium-fortified soy milk (299 mg per 8-ounce serving)
  • calcium-fortified orange juice (261 mg per 6-ounce serving)
  • firm tofu made with calcium sulfate (253 mg per 1/2 cup)
  • kale (100 mg per cup)
  • bok choy (74 mg per cup)
  • whole-wheat bread (30 mg per slice)
  • broccoli (21 mg per 1/2 cup)

A Word From Verywell

It's important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using lactase supplements for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

There are a number of medical tests (including blood, breath, and stool tests) that can help your doctor determine if you have lactose intolerance.

A number of factors may contribute to lactose intolerance, including medical disorders affecting the small intestine (such as celiac disease and Crohn's disease), increasing age, and complications from chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources