British Journal of Nutrition

Lactose intolerance and osteoporosis

Lactose intolerance and bone mass in postmenopausal Italian women

Gino R. Corazzaa1, Giuseppe Benatia2, Antonio Di Sarioa2, Carlo Tarozzia3, Alessandra Strocchia2, Mario Passeria4 and Giovanni Gasbarrinia2

a1 Department of Internal Medicine, University of L'Aquila, L'Aquila, Italy

a2 Department of Medical Pathology, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

a3 Division of Nuclear Medicine, Ospedale Maggiore, Bologna, Italy

a4 Department of Medicine, University of Parma, Parma, Italy


Previous studies on the role of lactose malabsorption in the pathogenesis of postmenopausal osteoporosis have yielded conflicting results and further information is needed. To date, all studies have been carried out on populations with a low prevalence of lactose malabsorption and the lactose intestinal absorptive capacity was tested using a non-physiological dose of lactose. In fifty-eight Italian postmenopausal women (mean age 57 (SD 7) years), bone mineral density (BMD) at lumbar spine, H2 breath response after ingestion of 20 g lactose, intensity of symptoms of intolerance after a lactose load and daily Ca intake were evaluated. No differences were found between women with or without a positive H2, breath test with regard to BMD (−1·2 (SD 0·9) ν −0·9 (SD 0·8)) and Ca intake (509 (SD 266) ν 511 (SD 313) mg/d). On the contrary, both BMD and Ca intake were significantly lower in women with lactose malabsorption and symptoms of intolerance (−1·5 (SD 0·7) and 378 (SD 220) mg/d) than in those with malabsorption without symptoms (−0·9 (SD 0·9) and 624 (SD 254) mg/d). Moreover, in lactose malabsorbers Ca intake was correlated inversely with symptom score (rs −0·31, P<0·05) and positively with BMD (rs 0·42, P<0·005). Our results show that in Italian postmenopausal women Ca intake and BMD are not influenced directly by lactose malabsorption; the appearance of symptoms of intolerance seems to influence BMD unfavourably through a reduced Ca intake.

(Received February 14 1994)

(Revised May 20 1994)

(Accepted June 24 1994)