J Neurogastroenterol Motil.  2021 Apr;27(2):257-264. 10.5056/jnm20094.

Lactose Sensitivity and Lactose Malabsorption: The 2 Faces of Lactose Intolerance

  • 1Department of Physiology, Université René Descartes, Paris V, Paris, France
  • 2Department of Gastroenterology, Avicenne Hospital, Bobigny, France
  • 3Nutrition and Diabetology, Hôpital Jean Verdier, Bondy, France


Self-reported lactose intolerance (LI) is frequent in patients with functional bowel disorders (FBD) that could be interpreted as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The present study aims to characterize the responses of patients with FBD, without small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and LI, in terms of lactose malabsorption (LM) and lactose sensitivity (LS) according to psychological and clinical features.
One hundred and fifty-eight consecutive FBD outpatients with LI, and no SIBO, were classified according to the Rome III questionnaire and filled Beck Depression Inventory, and State and Trait Anxiety questionnaires. They underwent a lactose tolerance test in which glycemia during 60 minutes and digestive symptoms for 3 hours were recorded.
Abnormal lactose tolerance tests were found in 110 patients (70%), 44 (28%) with LM, 96 (61%) with LS, and 30 (19%) having both LM and LS. LM patients had a higher frequency of functional diarrhea (P = 0.040) and a lower frequency of dysphagia (P = 0.031). LS patients had a higher depression score (P = 0.007), higher frequency of globus (P = 0.042), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (P = 0.027) and mixed IBS (P = 0.049), and lower frequency of abdominal pain (P = 0.040). LS was significantly associated with a higher depression score (P = 0.002), and a higher frequency of globus (P = 0.046).
Thirty percent of LI patients have normal lactose absorption and normal LS. In the other 70% of patients, LI could be associated with LM and/or LS.


Diarrhea; Irritable bowel syndrome; Lactose intolerance
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