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Gut. Nov 1997; 41(5): 632–635.
PMCID: PMC1891556
Improved clinical tolerance to chronic lactose ingestion in subjects with lactose intolerance: a placebo effect?
F Briet, P Pochart, P Marteau, B Flourie, E Arrigoni, and J Rambaud
INSERM U290, Hôpital Saint-Lazare, Paris, France.
Background—Uncontrolled studies of lactose intolerant subjects have shown that symptom severity decreases after chronic lactose consumption. Adaptation of the colonic flora might explain this improvement.
Aims—To compare the effects of regular administration of either lactose or sucrose on clinical tolerance and bacterial adaptation to lactose.
Methods—Forty six lactose intolerant subjects underwent two 50 g lactose challenges on days 1 and 15. Between these days they were given 34 g of lactose or sucrose per day, in a double blind protocol. Stool samples were obtained on days 0 and 14, to measure faecal β-galactosidase and pH. Symptoms, breath H2 excretion, faecal weight and electrolytes, and orofaecal transit time were assessed.
Results—Except for faecal weight, symptoms were significantly milder during the second challenge in both groups, and covariance analysis showed no statistical difference between them. In the lactose group, but not in the sucrose group, faecal β-galactosidase activity increased, pH dropped, and breath H2 excretion decreased.
Conclusion—Bacterial adaptation occurred when lactose intolerant subjects ingested lactose for 13 days, and all symptoms except diarrhoea regressed. Clinical improvement was also observed in the control group which displayed no signs of metabolic adaptation. This suggests that improved clinical tolerance may be just a placebo effect.

Keywords: lactose; lactose intolerance; colonic adaptation; lactase deficiency
Figure 1
Figure 1
: Symptoms reported by the 46 lactose maldigesters during two identical 50 g lactose challenges, separated by a 13 day period during which they consumed 34 g of either lactose or sucrose daily. Results are expressed as means (SD).
Figure 2
Figure 2
: Individual results for faecal weight (g/12 h) of 24 lactose maldigesters during two identical 50 g lactose challenges, separated by a 13 day period during which they consumed 34 g of lactose daily.
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