One of the few beneficial claims made by advocates of raw milk is that drinking raw milk helps to alleviate symptoms of lactose intolerance due to the presence of lactase enzyme. The presence of lactase enzyme is thought to break down the lactose sugar thus, reduces the symptoms of lactose intolerance such as bloatedness, abdominal discomfort, nausea, diarrhoea and flatulence. But how much of that claim is actually true and was based on actual scientific evidence?
Breakdown of Lactose
All mammalian milk (yes that includes breast milk as well) contains lactose – it is the principal carbohydrate and energy source within the milk. Lactose is synthesized in the mammary epithelial cells from the glucose and galactose absorbed from the blood, obtained from our diet. When we consume this milk, the lactase enzyme (β-galactosidase) hydrolyzes it back into glucose and galactose, which are then absorbed by the body of the consumer for energy. People with lactose intolerance simply mean they are unable to break down lactose sugar due to problems with their lactase enzyme, usually due to the lack of production of lactase enzyme by the small intestine.
Debunking the Myth
So, does raw milk alleviate lactose intolerance symptoms? To answer this question, a randomised controlled trial studied the effect of raw milk on 16 lactose-intolerance individuals using self-reported lactose intolerance and lactose malabsorption confirmation test via hydrogen (H2) breath test. The study found that raw milk failed to reduce lactose malabsorption or lactose intolerance symptoms compared with pasteurized milk among adults positive for lactose malabsorption. Reason being is because there is just no β-galactosidase enzyme present in raw milk to begin with hence, there is no obvious reason why raw milk could assist with lactose intolerance.
Although raw milk do contain low levels of some proteases and lipases, such a low level does not contribute to any significant physiological role in human digestion and these enzyme would not be denatured anyway by the process of pasteurisation because they are relatively heat-stable. Furthermore, what’s more likely to happen is that once ingested, the raw milk enzymes are likely to be degraded/hydrolyzed because of our stomach acid and pepsin.
Instead, dairy product that do contain this β-galactosidase enzyme is actually Yogurts. The reason being is because Yogurts contain bacteria which produces this enzyme, making it more tolerated by individuals with lactose intolerance.
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