Lactaid Pills: A Solution To Lactose Intolerance?

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A Woman Holding a Glass of Milk In Her Hands Looking Unsure.
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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.

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

A Lady With Stomachache Showing 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

A Lady Rejecting the Chance To Eat a Piece of Cheese.

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:

FoodLactose Content (grams)
Butter (1 tsp)Trace
Cheese (1 oz/28g)0-2
Condensed Milk (½ cup)3
Cottage Cheese (½ cup)3
Heavy Cream<0.2
Ice Cream (½ cup)Varies by brand
Milk (1 cup)12-13
Sour Cream (2 tbsp)0.7
Yogurt (6 oz/170g)5-10

Source: The University of Virginia

Additionally, any food products containing milk derivatives (such as margarine) may contain small amounts of lactose.

Frequently, some people do 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.

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?

Box Art For Lactaid (Lactase Pills).

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, 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?

A Lady Shrugging With a Confused Look on her Face.

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?

A Man Suffering From a Stomachache - Holding Stomach With Left Hand.

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

A Glass of Coconut Milk Next to a Coconut Broken In Half.

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.

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Paige
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Paige

My question is, I am pretty sure I have lactose intolerance, but I am not 100% certain. Even if I don’t have it, is it still safe to take lactaid? Or should I see a doctor first because it can be dangerous?

Daiva Baniene
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Daiva Baniene

Hello and thanks for the great article! I realized that I might am a lactose intolerant just two years ago. It was enough just to eat some pancakes which contained a milk powder. I got a lot of stomach problems that day. I went to the doctor, he said that it might be a lactose intolerance. I strongly disagreed and I said that I am eating dairy products all my life and I never had any problems ( I am 47 now). I didn’t believed him until I got very weird rash around my mouth for four months. I never… Read more »

Mary
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Mary

Your list of milk products containing lactose is not accurate (seems not to be researched at all). A biochemist (head of the department at a major university) once told me that cream and aged cheese do not contain lactose. I am very lactose intolerant and I have found this to be true. I don’t do well with so-called lactose-free milk, but I can eat any aged (hard) cheese without consequence and can eat ice creams that are mainly cream.

Tarah
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Tarah

This is an extremely helpful and informative article. I have been diagnosed with IBS for years, but I have had a lot more problems lately, and have come to the conclusion I seem to be lactose intolerant. I was as an infant (colic) and for years as a child. The pain I have had recently has been terrible, so I cut dairy out, and noticed a huge improvement (although I wasn’t totally sure what had lactose in it and have made some mistakes). I am starting to become educated in the complications of lactose intolerance, and have been surprised there… Read more »

Angie
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Angie

I finally put all the pieces together and learned that I’m lactose intolerant. I just turned 56 years old (European descent). I did the normal thing of taking all dairy out of my diet for a month or so and felt so much better. The problem comes when I travel or visit someone who doesn’t exactly understand what LI means. I have tried various brands and quantities of the lactase enzyme pills with various side effects: bloating, gas and the next day, constipation. Is it possible that that a person is not helped at all by taking the pills? What… Read more »

Jay
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Jay

I asked the question about whether there is extra available lactase enzyme in Lactaid milk or whether it is all used up already in the conversion process. I wanted to add that I can drink all the LACTAID MILK I want with no discomfort and it tastes better than regular milk. However, the Lactaid tablets do not work for me unless I take an inordinate amount of them, to the point where it’s not financially attractive to use them much or eat dairy other than consuming the Lactaid milk.

Jay
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Jay

I’m wondering if you drink enough Lactaid Milk along with a meal that contains other dairy products, will their be enough extra Lactase in the Lactaid Milk to assist in digesting Lactose? I am definitely lactose intolerant and love sour cream, however sour cream and ice cream causes me even greater distress than regular non-lactaid milk. To me, it seems as though the lactose is more heavily concentred in sour cream and ice cream, although it could depend on the brand as well. Do you know if there is any extra “available to the body” lactase in Lactaid milk, or… Read more »

JAMIE
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JAMIE

Is it safe to drink alcohol after taking lactaid?

Shanna
Guest

I’ve been taking Lactaid pills with just about every meal, and snack, for nearly 25 years (I’m severely lactose intolerant). I no longer drink but when I did it never had any adverse effects with my Lactaid nor did it cause it to not work. Hope this helps!

Sally
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Sally

Hi, I’ve been lactose intolerant my whole life and I didn’t even know it. I am East Asian. I do remember the struggles I’ve been through when I was a child. I don’t think my parents knew what lactose intolerance is. I had problems with things like yogurt, cheese and ice cream my whole life until I finally figured it out. One day many years ago I had a small amount of ice cream and I was sick afterwords for many hours. I experimented and stopped dairy for about a week until my symptoms went away. Then re-introduced a couple… Read more »

Amanda
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Amanda

My daughter (age 9) just found out the hard way that these types of pills do not work for her :'(

Samantha Rogers
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Samantha Rogers

I just started taking the pills after 4 years is that good for the body?

Jim Jozwiak
Guest

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… Read more »

Anon
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Anon

Citation needed.

Rhonda Svendsen
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Rhonda Svendsen

That explains why I am more able to take dairy when I have been drinking lactose free milk Anker in New Zealand add lactose

Duncan Weddington
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Duncan Weddington

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?

Toto
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Toto

I could have written this comment, except I have been taking lactase supplements for 40 years! I’ve found that it helps if I spread out the dosage. For instance, if you take 3 Regular Strength, take one when you begin consuming your dairy product, one when you finish, one an hour later.

Steph
Guest

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.

Geoff
Guest
Geoff

If found that lactase pill works for you, consider also lactase/tilactase drops for milk/other liquid milk products for same reason

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

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.… Read more »

Alan Hooi, Malaysia
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Alan Hooi, Malaysia

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… Read more »