Last Updated on October 23, 2019 by Michael Joseph
It may seem 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.
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
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
- Joint pain
- 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
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
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:
|Food||Lactose Content (grams)|
|Butter (1 tsp)||Trace|
|Cheese (1 oz/28g)||0-2|
|Condensed Milk (½ cup)||3|
|Cottage Cheese (½ cup)||3|
|Ice Cream (½ cup)||Varies by brand|
|Milk (1 cup)||12-13|
|Sour Cream (2 tbsp)||0.7|
|Yogurt (6 oz/170g)||5-10|
Additionally, any food products containing milk derivatives (such as margarine) may contain small amounts of lactose.
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.
However, some people are intolerant to even the slightest amount of lactose. In such cases, the complete elimination of lactose may be necessary.
While milk is the biggest source of lactose, fermented dairy like cheese has a much lower concentration, especially hard aged cheese.
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?
Lactaid is a brand that provides products such as drinks and tablets 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, 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?
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.
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?
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
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:
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 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!)
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.