lactose intolerance and homeopathic medicines

A glass of milk Français : Un verre de lait
A glass of milk Français : Un verre de lait (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When talking about the homeopathic pellets, there is a question that comes up from time to time: can someone who is lactose intolerant take the pellets since they are made of sucrose and lactose? Well, first let’s see what lactose is and what  lactose intolerance means in a nut shell:

Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk and derived products. Once extracted, it is a very fine white powder that is very commonly used as an inactive ingredient in medications, both homeopathic and conventional. As a matter of fact, hundreds of pills contain lactose as a filler or a coating agent mainly because of four of its properties:

  1. Lactose is slightly sweet but has no taste, making it an ideal filler.
  2. Lactose prevents caking.
  3. Lactose can also be sprayed onto a pill to produce a shiny, hard coating, that makes the pill smooth and easier to swallow.
  4. The small amounts of lactose used in pills are generally very well tolerated.

Lactose is a complex sugar, meaning it has to be broken down to be assimilated and used by your body. To digest/break down lactose you need a specific enzyme called lactase and that is produced in the small intestine. Some people start producing less and less of this enzyme over time to a point that they have difficulties digesting milk and dairy products. When they do eat dairies, they can experience these symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Pain or cramps
  • Gas
  • Loose stools or diarrhea
  • Vomiting

They are called lactose intolerant but it does not mean that they cannot tolerate lactose at all. There many different levels of ”intolerance” and people learn to know what they can have and in what amount. Luckily, babies produce enough lactase so they can drink their mother’s milk (although there is an extremely rare condition known  as Congenital lactase deficiency)!

Regarding lactose in homeopathic pellets, there is approximately 35 mg in 5 pellets, which is the common dosage. This is very little and not enough to trigger a reaction in most patients with lactose intolerance: most studies agree that symptoms of lactose intolerance begin to appear when a sensitive individual ingests between 3 and 7 grams of lactose, approximately 1/4 – 1/2 cup of cow’s milk. (However, I am aware that  there are persons who get a reaction even with very tiny amounts of lactose. But those are very rare cases and they know how to handle their condition.)

So lactose in pellets should not bother you if you are lactose intolerant. On the other hand, be careful with the amount of lactose in conventional medicines, because the quantities are higher and you usually have to take several pills a day. My cousin who had been diagnosed with lactose intolerance and was very cautious with his food, could not understand while he was still having digestive issues. Until a physician (my brother, the best!) pointed out that the lactose in the medicines that had been prescribed by another physician (not the best, obviously!) were responsible for his troubles. If you are concerned, read the notice of the medications as it lists the inactive ingredients (it does not say the quantities though) or you can ask your pharmacist to look into it.