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Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology
Volume 18, Issue 3, Pages 163-167
Original Article

Redefining Lactose as a Conditional Prebiotic

Andrew Szilagyi

McGill University School of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, The Sir Mortimer B, Davis—Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Received 24 September 2003; Accepted 4 February 2004

Copyright © 2004 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Lactose in dairy products is maldigested by up to 70% to 75% of the world's population and many people may therefore suffer symptoms reminiscent of irritable bowel syndrome. As a result, most research to date has concentrated on ways of improving lactose tolerance to enhance dairy as a source of nutrition. However, research on other possible benefits of lactose and its maldigestion has lagged. In view of an exponential growth in the understanding of intestinal microfloral host interactions and the expanding therapeutical potential of probiotics, a reassessment of the role of lactose as a potential prebiotic in lactase nonpersistent subjects is required. Gibson and Roberfroid introduced the concept of prebiotics and outlined definitive requirements for such a compound. The present article examines scientific and clinical knowledge about the properties of lactose and argues that in lactase nonpersistent subjects, lactose qualifies as a prebiotic.