Allaying fears and fallacies about lactose intolerance

J Am Diet Assoc. 1998 Jun;98(6):671-6. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(98)00152-7.


Public awareness and misunderstandings of lactose intolerance are at an all-time high. Many people erroneously believe they are lactose intolerant or develop gastrointestinal symptoms after intake of lactose. Consequently, lactose-containing foods such as milk and other dairy foods may be eliminated unnecessarily from the diet. Because these foods are a major source of calcium, low intake of them can compromise calcium nutriture. This, in turn, can increase the risk of major chronic diseases such as osteoporosis (porous bones) and hypertension. This review is intended to help dietetics professionals alleviate clients' fears about lactose intolerance and recommend dietary strategies to improve tolerance to lactose. Scientific findings indicate that the prevalence of lactose intolerance is grossly overestimated. Other physiologic and psychologic factors can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms that mimic lactose intolerance. Scientific findings also indicate that people with laboratory-confirmed low levels of the enzyme lactase can consume 1 serving of milk with a meal or 2 servings of milk per day in divided doses at breakfast and dinner without experiencing symptoms. Several dietary strategies are available to help lactose maldigesters include milk and other dairy foods in their diet without experiencing symptoms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / prevention & control*
  • Digestion
  • Humans
  • Lactase
  • Lactose / administration & dosage
  • Lactose / metabolism
  • Lactose Intolerance / epidemiology
  • Lactose Intolerance / prevention & control*
  • Lactose Intolerance / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology
  • beta-Galactosidase / deficiency
  • beta-Galactosidase / metabolism


  • Lactase
  • beta-Galactosidase
  • Lactose