We’ve all heard about lactose intolerance. But what is it exactly, and how does it impact consumers? In the name of ‘Lactose Intolerance Awareness Month’ two dairy experts tell us about the digestive condition.

February is offical Lactose Intolerance Awareness Month, a time dedicated to educating consumers about a condition that’s often misunderstood.

In this podcast from Novozymes’ DairyLab, two experts give consumers and potential customers insights into lactose intolerance and what’s involved in reducing lactose in dairy products. Below is a summary of their talk.

Mary Wilcox is a business consultant with a background in marketing, business, process, and product development for the dairy industry. Craig Sherwin is Technical Service manager at Novozymes with research experience in the food industry.

What is lactose tolerance, exactly? 

Mary: It means that your body does not produce enough lactase to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. So, the lactose gets fermented in your colon instead and might create more gassiness or bloating.

How common is this issue?

Craig: It could be as high as 70% of the world’s population. There’s a strong genetic component to it.

People think lactose intolerance is a maldigestion or a problem that some people have. But the ability to digest lactose is the mutation. They call it the lactase persistence gene, and it’s more prevalent in northern European populations.

Do people who are lactose intolerant stay away from dairy?

Mary: Many people avoid dairy because of lactose intolerance concerns. The consequence is losing out on key nutrients, such as calcium, protein, various vitamins. That can lead to other shortfalls, such as susceptibility to chronic diseases.

How are consumers responding to lactose-free products being available?

Mary: More and more households are purchasing and trying lactose-free products. Europe is seeing double-digit growth. In the U.S, it’s grown over 29% in the last couple years.

Craig: And we’re going to see even more growth in emerging markets. We’re hopefully going to see an explosion of lactose-free options.