Lactase is an enzyme that hydrolyzes milk sugar (lactose) into its component parts, glucose and galactose, and assists in the digestion dairy products such as, ice cream, milk and cheese. Nutritionists estimate that 10-20% of the U.S. population is lactose intolerant, meaning they have an inability to break down lactose in many of the dairy products they eat.
Some ethnic groups have much higher levels of lactose intolerance. For example, research suggests that up to 75% of all African-Americans and Native Americans, and 90% of Asian-Americans experience at least some difficulty digesting milk sugar. But these are not the only people who may be susceptible to an imbalance of lactase in the gut. Certain digestive diseases and even minor injuries to the intestines can alter our enzyme balance.
The body naturally produces the lactase enzyme in the brush boreder of our small intestines, unless we are lactose intolerant. Lactase production is particularly high when we are infants because lactose accounts for roughly 40% of the total calorie content of breast milk.
The Health Benefits of Lactase
The use of lactase as a supplemental agent to help people properly digest lactose has long been confirmed by the scientific community. Here are some of the great health benefits and studies that support the benefits of enzymes such as lactase:
1. Lactose Intolerance
Whereas animal-based lactase has been used for many years by people with lactose intolerance, increasing research on plant-based lactase offers some exciting evidence that it can offer just as many health benefits. A recent review published in the 2008 “Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal of Clinical Therapeutic found lactase to be an effective support for digestive imbalances.
2. Reduces Gas and Bloating
Clinical research examining the health benefits of lactase has found that it may offer prevention and reduction of flatulence in human beings. Placebo-based studies show that preparations of microbial lactase can significantly lower belching, hydrogen production, bloating, and other symptoms of flatulence in individuals with a reduced lactase count in the gut.
3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The aforementioned research suggests that similar enzymes may play a role in the reduction of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This further leads us to the conclusion that supplementing with a lactase enzyme may help the estimated 1-in-5 Americans who have irritable bowel syndrome.
4. Digestive Upset in Children with Autism
Studies also show a correlation between chronic diarrhea, children with autism spectrum disorder and lowered amounts of intestinal disaccharidase activity (i.e. presence of important digestive enzymes such as lactase, sucrase, and maltase.)
5. Irritation in the Digestive Tract
Studies suggest that a reduced amount of intestinal lactase enzyme activity may contribute to diarrhea, illness, mucosal presence and other negative responses in the gut. Supplementing with lactase may ease responses such as indigestion, loose stools, and sinus irritation. To avoid these issues, supplementing with lactase may be an excellent idea.
6. May Help Prevent Certain Digestive Issues
Scientists now understand the link between genetics and the digestive system. Some children and infants have chronic diarrhea, as well as cramping and abdominal distension. Studies suggest that the use of fungal-derived lactase in human studies have shown significant clinical improvements in children with these extremely challenging digestive conditions. This research further suggests a clear link between the use of carbohydrate enzymes like lactase as a useful aid for supporting digestive upset associated with enzyme deficiencies.
How to Read the Units of Measurement for Lactase
Lactase (FCC ALU/g) is measured in ALU’s (Lactase Units) based on the hydrolysis of carbohydrates. One ALU is calculated using a 15-minute hydrolysis of an o-nitrophenyl-ß-D-galactopyranoside substrate at 37°C and pH 4.5.
The FCC notation stands for Foods Chemical Codex and is a division of USP (United States Pharmacopeia). It sets standards for ingredients. In the case of enzymes, FCC is a standard assay used to accurately determine the activity of enzymes. The current compendium is FCC VI.
What Is The Best Form of Lactase?
Find a source, such as Veganzyme®, that comes from all vegetarian, non-GMO sources, is kosher certified, contains no animal product and is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. The best form of lactase is derived from the fermentation of A. oryzae.
- Roxas M. The role of enzyme supplementation in digestive disorders. Altern Med Rev. 2008 Dec;13(4):307-14. Review.
- Horvath K, Papadimitriou JC, Rabsztyn A, Drachenberg C, Tildon JT. Gastrointestinal abnormalities in children with autistic disorder. J Pediatr. 1999 Nov;135(5):559-63.
- Treem WR, Ahsan N, Sullivan B, Rossi T, Holmes R, Fitzgerald J, Proujansky R, Hyams J. Evaluation of liquid yeast-derived sucrase enzyme replacement in patients with sucrase-isomaltase deficiency. Gastroenterology. 1993 Oct;105(4):1061-8.
- David Wolfson, ND, Stephen Olmstead, MD, Dennis Meiss, PhD, Janet Ralston, BS. Making Sense of Digestive Enzymes (PDF). Klair Labs. 2008.
- American Pregnancy Association. What’s in breast milk?.