Digestive System Home > Lactose Intolerance and Bone Health

Many people wonder about the relationship between lactose intolerance and bone health. The truth is, a person with lactose intolerance isn't necessarily at increased risk for developing osteoporosis (reduced bone mass). A variety of lactose-reduced dairy products, containing as much calcium as regular milk, are available for those with lactose intolerance.

An Overview of Lactose Intolerance and Bone Health

Since dairy products are a major source of dietary calcium, it might be argued that individuals with lactose intolerance should avoid dairy products. However, when diets are calcium-deficient, people are at increased risk for osteoporosis.
 

Lactose Intolerance and Bone Health: What Does the Research Say?

Research exploring the role of lactose intolerance on calcium intake and bone health has produced conflicting results. Studies involving perimenopausal Finnish women and postmenopausal Italian women found that lactase deficiency negatively impacted bone mineral density. Other studies, however, have not shown such an association.
 
Perhaps one reason that women with lactose deficiency might not be at increased risk for osteoporosis is that such women may not avoid milk and other dairy products. Also, in various ethnic groups, other dietary sources of calcium happen to be important staples, such as corn tortillas for Mexican Americans, and pizza and rice for Cuban Americans and Puerto Ricans.
 
Studies have shown that in people who have at least some intestinal lactase, tolerance to lactose can be increased when dairy products are gradually introduced into the diet. Also, certain sources of dairy products may be easier for people with lactase deficiency to digest. For example, aged cheese can contain up to 95 percent less lactose than whole milk. Yogurt contains active cultures that lessen gastrointestinal symptoms. A variety of lactose-reduced dairy products -- including milk, cottage cheese, and processed cheese slices -- are available, as are lactase-replacing pills or liquids.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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