Medication and Lactose Intolerance: Are You Aware?

  • A reader of mine opened my eyes wide. I have a son who is lactose intolerant. So is my sister. There are entire ethnic groups who have a large percentage of their population with this food intolerance.


    Lactose, described in the dictionary as, "A white crystalline substance obtained from whey and used in infant foods, bakery products, confections, and pharmaceuticals ... also called milk sugar," is in dairy products. Milk, cream and ice cream seem to bother people the most. Lactose intolerance symptoms can be mild or severe, but generally they are digestive and include gas and diarrhea.


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    Most people handle this problem by avoiding the foods and/or taking the enzyme their bodies don't produce enough of, called lactase. The pills are available over-the-counter and come in brand names and generics.


    As people age, lactase production often goes down. So, many of us who now tolerate our favorite ice cream, may find that, as we age, we have to take a dose of enzyme before we indulge. 


    My neighbor, and first elder for whom I cared, Joe, went through miserable medical tests, only to conclude that there was no health reason for his chronic diarrhea. Finally, I suggested that the small amount of milk he put on his breakfast cereal may be causing problems. I found lactase drops and added them to Joe's carton of milk, each time I opened a new one. Problem solved. 


    The lesson I learned from my reader's e-mail is explained in the above definition I took from a dictionary. I'd never bothered looking it up before, as  I know what lactose is. I just didn't know that it is considered an "inert" ingredient, a filler if you will, to be used in many medications. I didn't know that it often not listed as an ingredient. Thanks to my loyal reader, I know now.


    If large numbers of ethnic groups and elders of any ethnic background are going to end up with miserable digestive problems because they are taking medication that they don't know contains something that they can't digest, then I say this is not an inert ingredient. 


    My reader's wife has Alzheimer's disease. She needs her medications. But after a chat with the pharmacist, the gentleman found that several of her medications contained lactose as a filler. No wonder the poor woman was in gastric distress!


    The answer for them is simple. They give her a lactase tablet just before she takes her other medications. Problem solved. This is an awareness issue. Please, if you or someone you know is having gastric problems, and medications are part of the daily program, ask your pharmacist to check all of the ingredients in each medication. You may be surprised.


    Learning from readers is one of the joys of what I do. This little gem was just too important not to pass along. 


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Published On: October 09, 2008