GASTRO
March 11, 2014

Raw Milk No Help When It Comes to Lactose Intolerance

There may be benefits to raw milk, but easing the symptoms of the lactose intolerant isn't one of them.

Flavor and superior nutrition are two reasons why some people go out of their way to purchase raw milk, milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. But there is disappointing news for those hoping that it may also help relieve the symptoms of lactose intolerance: a new study finds it doesn’t make a difference.

People with lactose intolerance who drank raw, or unpasteurized, milk did not have any fewer symptoms than they did after drinking pasteurized milk, according to a pilot study conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine, debunking yet another nutrition myth.

People often assume they are lactose intolerant if they have symptoms after drinking milk, but other conditions can cause similar symptoms.

“When I heard that claim it didn’t make sense to me because, regardless of the bacteria, raw milk and pasteurized milk have the same amount of lactose in them,” lead author, Christopher Gardner, PhD, professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, said in a statement.

“But I liked the idea of taking this on since it seemed like a relatively straightforward and answerable question because the symptoms of lactose-intolerance are immediate. If drinking milk makes you uncomfortable, you will know within two hours. You either have cramps and diarrhea or you don’t.” Though the study was small, the results were consistent among all participants, Gardner said.

Researchers tested 16 people to confirm they were lactose intolerant. Each consumed three types of milk — pasteurized milk, raw milk, and soy milk — in random order. Soy milk does not contain lactose, so it served as a control.

Every person in the study consumed each type of milk for eight days. Hydrogen breath tests were performed, and participants logged the severity of their symptoms. Normally, very little hydrogen is in your breath. But if a person has trouble breaking down and absorbing lactose, breath hydrogen levels increase.

When they compared the breath test results during the consumption of raw milk and pasteurized milk, researchers found little difference. The participants’ self reports on the severity of their symptoms also did not differ between the two milks.

People with lactose intolerance lack the enzyme, lactase, normally produced by cells that line the small intestine, which is necessary to digest lactose, the sugar found naturally in cows' milk and milk products.

For this reason, when they consume milk or milk products, people with lactose intolerance experience symptoms such as abdominal pain and bloating, gas, diarrhea, or nausea. Depending on the amount of lactose consumed and the person’s degree of intolerance, symptoms can range from mild to severe.

People often assume they are lactose intolerant if they have symptoms after drinking milk, but other conditions can cause similar symptoms. The hydrogen breath test is needed to confirm a diagnosis of lactose intolerance.

Fans of raw milk claim that it contains “good” bacteria that can increase lactose absorption among those who are lactose intolerant. Both raw and pasteurized milk contain the same amount of lactose, and, in fact, raw milk contains no probiotic bacteria, according to the FDA.

While there may be benefits to raw milk, it appears that being more digestible for the lactose intolerant is not one of them. The study is published in Annals of Family Medicine.

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