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Age Ageing. 1999 Mar;28(2):175-80.

Lactose malabsorption and rate of bone loss in older women.

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Department of Medicine, Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand.



to study the prevalence of lactose malabsorption with increasing age and to determine whether lactose malabsorbers consume less dietary calcium, have lower bone mineral density or display faster bone loss than lactose absorbers.


80 healthy Caucasian women aged 40-79 years (20 per decade) were studied for 1 year.


breath hydrogen exhalation was measured for 3 after a 50 g oral lactose challenge. Bone density was assessed in the radius, femoral neck, lumbar spine and total body by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry and dietary calcium intake was estimated by 4-day diet records and food-frequency questionnaires.


lactose malabsorption rose with age (15% in those aged 40-59 years versus 50% in those aged 60-79; P < 0.01). Malabsorbers aged 70-79 years consumed significantly less calcium than lactose absorbers of this age (P < 0.05). Baseline total body calcium values were lower in lactose malabsorbers (n=26) than in lactose absorbers (n=54) but age-adjustment eliminated this difference. Bone change (% per year) was correlated with dietary calcium intake at the femoral neck and trochanter (P < 0.05) but was not statistically greater in malabsorbers than in absorbers.


the ability to absorb lactose declines in the 7th decade. This may contribute to decreased dietary intakes of milk products and calcium in elderly women. However, lactose malabsorption without reduction in calcium intake has little effect on bone mineral density or the rate of bone loss.

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