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Lactose intolerance

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 28 June 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:1331
  1. Shinjini Bhatnagar, pediatric gastroenterologist and senior research scientist1,
  2. Rakesh Aggarwal, professor2
  1. 1Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases and Nutrition Research, Department of Paediatrics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi 110029, India
  2. 2Department of Gastroenterology and Human Nutrition, All India Institute of Medical Sciences
  1. shinjini.bhatnagar{at}

    Is common and can be diagnosed clinically and treated with simple dietary measures

    Lactose intolerance occurs in about 25% of people in Europe; 50-80% of people of Hispanic origin, people from south India, black people, and Ashkenazi Jews; and almost 100% of people in Asia and American Indians.1 Lactose is a disaccharide sugar that is found exclusively in mammalian milk and is digested by the enzyme lactase in the mucosal brush border of the intestine. Reduced intestinal lactase results in malabsorption of lactose. The unabsorbed lactose is metabolised by colonic bacteria to produce gas and short chain fatty acids, causing the clinical syndrome of abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhoea, and flatulence. Lactose malabsorption does not always cause lactose intolerance; symptoms depend on the amount and rate of lactose reaching the colon, and the amount and type of colonic flora.

    Lactase deficiency may be classified as primary, secondary, congenital, and developmental. The classification is important as it relates to diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. In all mammals, lactase concentrations are at their highest shortly after birth and decline rapidly after the usual age of weaning. In people with primary lactase deficiency, such …

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