Intestinal disaccharidase activities in relation to age, race, and mucosal damage

Gastroenterology. 1978 Nov;75(5):847-55.


Studies were undertaken to determine the relationship of intestinal disaccharidase activity to age and race, and the relationship of mucosal damage to a primary low lactase activity. The first study consisted of data on 399 persons (339 whites, 53 blacks, and 7 American Indians) ages 1 month to 93 years, with normal intestinal histology. Among whites, all 117 children 5 years old or under had high lactase levels, whereas low levels were found only in subjects over 5 years of age. No low lactase levels were identified among the 11 black children 3 years old or under, but in comparison to coetaneous white children, their mean lactase activity was signficantly less. The majority of older blacks had low lactases. In whites and blacks alpha-disaccharidases did not participate in the age-related changes demonstrated with lactase. Of the 7 American Indians, none under 26 months old had low lactase levels, whereas the 4 over 10 years old had low activities. Heterozygotes for sucrase-isomaltase deficiency were identified only among whites. Low lactase levels developed during childhood in all races studied, however, many for unknown reasons maintained their lactose tolerance until adulthood. In the second study of 13 additional children with secondary disaccharidase deficiencies, emergence of a primary low lactase was related to age and race, rather than to mucosal damage. It appears that primary low intestinal lactase levels are absent or rare in whites under 5 and blacks under 3 years of age, and the deficiency is not related to mucosal damage.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Alkaline Phosphatase / metabolism
  • Blacks
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disaccharidases / deficiency
  • Disaccharidases / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Heterozygote
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intestinal Mucosa / enzymology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Intestine, Small / enzymology*
  • Intestine, Small / pathology
  • Lactose Intolerance / enzymology*
  • Lactose Intolerance / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oligo-1,6-Glucosidase / deficiency
  • Oligo-1,6-Glucosidase / metabolism
  • Sucrase / deficiency
  • Sucrase / metabolism
  • Trehalase / metabolism
  • Whites
  • alpha-Glucosidases / metabolism
  • beta-Galactosidase / metabolism


  • Alkaline Phosphatase
  • Disaccharidases
  • Oligo-1,6-Glucosidase
  • alpha-Glucosidases
  • beta-Galactosidase
  • Trehalase
  • Sucrase