Fifteen lactose malabsorbers were studied to evaluate the effects of consumption of milk containing different strains of Bifidobacterium longum on lactose digestion. Influences of different growth substrates, bile sensitivity, and lactose transport on lactose digestion by bifidobacteria were also investigated. Lactose malabsorption was determined by measuring breath hydrogen excretion of subjects fed four different test milks (three of which contained 5 x 10(8) cfu/ml of B. longum) on 4 different d using a randomized, double-blinded trial. Test milks included 1) 400 ml of lowfat milk (control), 2) 400 ml of milk containing B. longum B6 that had been grown with lactose, 3) 400 ml of milk containing B. longum B6 grown with lactose plus glucose, or 4) 400 ml of milk containing B. longum ATCC 15708 grown with lactose. beta-Galactosidase activity was highest in milk containing B6 grown with lactose but was extremely low in milk containing B6 grown with lactose and glucose. Consumption of milk containing B6 grown with lactose resulted in significantly less hydrogen production and flatulence than occurring after consumption of control milk or the milk containing B6 grown with both lactose and glucose. Hydrogen production after ingestion of 15708 was also significantly lower than hydrogen production after ingestion of the control milk. We concluded that milks containing B. longum might reduce breath hydrogen response and symptoms from lactose malabsorption when the culture is grown in a medium containing only lactose to induce a higher beta-galactosidase level and increase rate of lactose uptake.