We conducted blinded, controlled crossover studies to determine the effect of daily lactose feeding on colonic adaptation and intolerance symptoms. The initial study with nine lactose maldigesters showed a threefold increase in fecal beta-galactosidase activity after 16 d of lactose feeding. To determine the effects of this adaptation on breath hydrogen and intolerance symptoms, 20 lactose-maldigesting adults were randomly assigned to lactose or dextrose supplementation for 10 d (days 1-10), crossing over to the other period for days 12-21. The sugar dosage was increased from 0.6 to 1.0 g.kg-1.d-1, subdivided into three equal doses, by adjusting the dose every other day. Symptoms during lactose supplementation and comparison of symptoms during the lactose and dextrose feeding periods showed no significant differences. On days 11 and 22, challenge doses of lactose (0.35 g/kg) were administered after an overnight fast, and breath hydrogen and intolerance symptoms (abdominal pain, flatulence, and diarrhea) were carefully monitored for 8 h. Frequency of flatus passage and flatus severity ratings after the lactose challenge decreased 50% when studied at the end of the lactose period compared with the dextrose period. The sum of hourly breath-hydrogen concentrations (1-8 h) was significantly reduced after the lactose feeding period (9 +/- 38 ppm.h) compared with after the dextrose period (385 +/- 52 ppm.h, P < 0.001). We conclude that there is colonic adaptation to regular lactose ingestion and this adaptation reduces lactose intolerance symptoms.