There are a few claims being spread around the Internet and elsewhere that people who suffer from lactose intolerance can consume raw milk without the worry of experiencing the terrible side effects.
Not so, says a new study from Stanford University.
Eating dairy can be very painful for those who are lactose intolerant. Their bodies lack enough lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose – the sugar in milk – to sufficiently digest the lactose. This difficulty digesting can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea. Although there are strategies for controlling it – dairy avoidance, taking lactase enzyme tablets – none of these works completely, and many people simply go without dairy.
Testing the Claim
In recent years, advocates for raw milk have said that lactose-intolerant people can enjoy this dairy product without the side effects. The claim is that because their milk is not pasteurized, it contains “good” bacteria that aid in lactose absorption.
“When I heard that claim, it didn’t make sense to me because, regardless of the bacteria, raw milk and pasteurized milk have the same amount of lactose in them,” noted Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., nutrition expert and professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. “But I liked the idea of taking this on, since it seemed like a relatively straightforward and answerable question because the symptoms of lactose-intolerance are immediate. If drinking milk makes you uncomfortable, you will know within two hours.”
The study was admittedly small, but it was consistent and left little doubt. There was no difference between the drinkers of raw milk and pasteurized milk. Symptoms experienced after drinking the milk were exactly the same at the same level of discomfort. “It’s not that there was a trend toward a benefit from raw milk, and our study wasn’t big enough to capture it; it’s that there was no hint of any benefit,” explained Gardner.