Is Lactose Intolerance Genetic?

August 19, 2014

When it comes to our health and wellness, we’re all searching for answers. Sometimes that can be a complicated process as misinformation is everywhere. That’s where we want to help. Stay tuned over the next few weeks to read our “Lactose Intolerance Answers” series on Dairy Good.

We connected with Dr. Robert Murray who has practiced clinical Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition for more than 20 years. Today he answers a question related to lactose intolerance and genetics:

Is lactose intolerance genetic?

Dr. Robert Murray: When people ask me if lactose intolerance is genetic, I have to say yes and no.

Yes, in one sense the problem is caused by our genes. The loss of the enzyme that breaks down lactose is a result of our genes. Whether the enzyme lactase disappears and when this takes place varies from person to person, but it usually occurs around 10 years of age. In those who do lose the enzyme lactase from the intestine, the lactose sugar in their diet may make to the colon.

No, the “intolerance” part is not genetic. What I mean is that just because the sugar gets to the colon does not mean that a person will have symptoms. The term “lactose intolerance” actually refers to the uncomfortable symptoms – the cramping, gas, etc. Those symptoms can be avoided in many people if the colon’s natural bacteria break it down. People can encourage this type of digestion by eating small amounts frequently and consuming lactose products along with other foods. 


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