Lactose Maldigestion, Malabsorption, and Intolerance: A Comprehensive Review with a Focus on Current Management and Future Perspectives

Nutrients. 2018 Nov 1;10(11):1599. doi: 10.3390/nu10111599.


Milk is a fundamental component of the diet of every mammal; nevertheless, not every individual can tolerate this kind of food, especially in adulthood. However, lactose intolerance has only been recognized in the last 50 years, and currently, lactose intolerance is defined as a clinical syndrome characterized by pain, abdominal distention, flatulence, and diarrhoea that occur after lactose consumption. Lactose is currently a common disaccharide in human nutrition, both in breastfed infants and in adults, but its digestion requires a specialized enzyme called lactase. The genetically programmed reduction in lactase activity during adulthood affects most of the world's adult population and can cause troublesome digestive symptoms, which may also vary depending on the amount of residual lactase activity; the small bowel transit time; and, especially, the amount of ingested lactose. Several diagnostic tests are currently available for lactose intolerance, but the diagnosis remains challenging. The treatment for lactose intolerance mainly consists of reducing or eliminating the dietetic amount of lactose until the symptoms disappear, but this is hard to achieve, as lactose is present in dairy products and is even commonly used as a food additive. In addition to dietetic restriction of lactose-containing foods, lactase can be administered as an enzymatic food supplement, but its efficacy is still controversial. Recently, probiotics have been proposed for the management of lactose intolerance; certain probiotic strains have shown specific β-galactosidase activity, thus aiding in the digestion of lactose. The aim of this paper was to review the current knowledge about lactose intolerance and to discuss the potential for the use of specific probiotic strains such as dietary supplements in lactose-intolerant patients.

Keywords: food intolerance; lactose intolerance; lactose malabsorption; lactose maldigestion; probiotics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet
  • Humans
  • Lactose / adverse effects*
  • Lactose / metabolism*
  • Lactose Intolerance / diagnosis*
  • Malabsorption Syndromes


  • Lactose