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Health Consequences of Lactose Intolerance

Unlike many common gastrointestinal conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or dyspepsia (among many others), lactose intolerance symptoms can be completely abated by avoiding dietary lactose. In this regard, lactose intolerance is an avoidance condition, similar to celiac sprue, food intolerances, or various environmental allergies. However, dairy avoidance may lead to inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake, which can predispose individuals to decreased bone accrual, osteoporosis, hypertension, rickets, osteomalacia, and possibly certain cancers. Although supplements and calcium-rich foods are available, several studies have shown that lactose intolerance patients had an average calcium intake of only 300-388 mg/day, significantly less than the 1000-1200 mg/day adult dietary recommended levels. The 2010 National Institutes of Health conference on lactose intolerance highlighted the long-term consequences of dairy avoidance demonstrating both the importance of treating the condition and the need to find improved solutions for patients.

These health outcomes are attributed towards dairy exclusion diets and whether or not the individual can replace vital nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is important for the growth and development of bones, as well as for maintaining bone density. Evidence suggests that certain age groups, such as teenagers, may be at increased risk for deficient bone growth if their diets are lacking in calcium or vitamin D. As a group, teenagers tend to not take in enough calcium to meet daily requirements and this is worsened by dairy avoidance in individuals who consider themselves lactose intolerant.

National Institutes of Health Consensus Develolopment Conference Statement:

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