ConsumerLab is a rival of the more famous Consumer Reports. It concentrates more on pills, powders, supplements, and remedies, though, a field that is rife with quacks and where even the legitimate products may not do what they claim.
Lactase is hardly in that class. It's easy to make, can be measured with proper federally-approved units, and does exactly what it's supposed to do. Like anything that is sold over-the-counter, though, some products have to be better than others. So when ConsumerLab did a report on lactase I didn't expect any surprises.
Can lactose-free foods -- like like lactose-free milk -- and lactase enzyme supplements really help people with lactose intolerance? They may -- but it depends on how much enzyme activity is in the supplement and how much lactose has been removed from the food.
ConsumerLab.com selected and tested ten different lactase supplements and three popular brands of lactose-free milk. The testing showed one lactase supplement to be ineffective and another with so little activity as to be of questionable value. But ConsumerLab.com also found many supplements that met their claims and may be helpful. The three lactose-free milks had no detectable lactose but only two provided a significant amount of vitamin D.
ConsumerLab.com found that an equal amount of lactase enzyme (enough to help with a high lactose meal) cost as little as 8 cents to as much as $6.79 depending on the brand of lactase supplement.
That's from the public page. You have to be a member to get the full report. Luckily, I am. Here's the full story.
The following lactase enzymes pills were tested (amount of lactase units):
CVS Pharmacy Dairy Relief Fast Acting (9,000 - 27,000)
Enzymedica Lacto (9,500)
Equate (Wal-Mart) Fast Acting Dairy Digestive Supplement (9,000 - 27,000)
Garden of Life Raw Enzymes (1,890 - 5,670)
KAL Lactase Enzyme (250)
Kirkland (Costco) Signature Fast Acting Lactase (9,000 - 27,000)
Lactaid Fast Act (9,000 - 27,000)
Natural Factors Lactase Enzyme 9,000
Nature’s Plus Say Yes to Dairy (3,000)
Puritan’s Pride Lactase Enzyme (1,750 - 5,250)
Solgar Lactase 3500 (3,500)
Source Naturals Lactase Digest (3,000 - 9,000)
Zygest Lactase Enzyme (1,750 - 5,250)
One liquid lactase:
The three lactose-free milks:
Lactaid Fat-Free Milk,
Land O Lakes Dairy Ease
Organic Valley Lactose-Free Organic Fat Free Milk
All the lactase pills made their approved list, which as far as I can tell means only that they contain the amount of lactase that the manufacturers claimed.
There are other factors just as important. Tops on that list is whether the amount of lactase is sufficient for your needs. That's a touchy subject. Although the report cites a few studies, the truth is that nobody really knows what amount of lactase to recommend for the simple reason that each person is different. Some people seem to need only a basic minimum amount of lactase; others report requiring multiple pills. How your system reacts to the lactose in food varies with every mouthful. It's a frustratingly impossible subject to research. Over the years, however, the standard in the marketplace has been that a basic pill contains 3,000 units and an "extra-strength" pill contains 9,000. You might be able to get by with a smaller quantity, but I have always stated that anything below 1,000 units is a worthless waste of money. The KAL pill wouldn't make my approved list. In addition, the lactase in it is just one of a mixture of other digestive enzymes and I don't know if any of them are useful or in the right quantities. I never recommend any pills that contain such a mix. Garden of Life Raw Enzymes and Enzymedica Lacto also are mixes and not recommended by me. ConsumerLab noted that they are also the most expensive products per unit. As you would expect, the Costco and Walmart brand products were the cheapest at 8 and 12 cents per 9,000 units. Chewable tablets were slightly more expensive, Lactaid Fast Acting Vanilla Twist Flavor at 20 cents and CVS Pharmacy Dairy Relief Fast Acting Vanilla Twist Flavor at 21 cents, but some people - kids especially - may prefer them. The health food store brands were consistently more expensive.
So what about Lacteeze? Well, lactase pills are meant to be taken along with food to counteract the lactose in them. They work in your digestive tract. Lactase liquid, on the other hand, is a completely different type of lactase that is designed to be added to milk or other liquid dairy products and "digest" the lactase before it reaches your mouth. That's what Lacteeze liquid is. (Lacteeze, which is a Canadian product, also makes pills, which evidently were not tested.) I've recommended Lacteeze for years, because they came to our rescue when all the American brands of liquid lactase went off the market. I've never heard any complaints about them, although I always warn people that nothing works for everybody. I simply can't imagine why ConsumerLab couldn't find lactase in the Lacteeze bottle. Could their tests simply not be designed to find that variety of lactase? It's a mystery. I'm very hesitant to steer people away from a product that been a major company for decades on the basis of this odd finding.
Lactose-free milk, of course, is made by adding liquid lactase to regular milk. The process is similar to what you can do at home, although it is scaled up to industrial levels. All three milks in the test had lactose levels below what their test labs could detect. That doesn't necessarily mean absolutely zero, but so close that any difference is meaningless. All were about the same price, although the organic milk was a bit higher. The claim that one milk - Dairy Ease - didn't provide "a significant amount of vitamin D" is bizarre and possibly spurious. In reality, that meant that the carton didn't say how much much vitamin D was present and so they read that as zero even though Dairy Ease stated that vitamin D was added. That's shoddy work at best.
Overall, the report yields results pretty much exactly what I would expect. Store brands are cheaper than name brands, and mainstream brands more expensive than natural food items. Buy pills either as cheap as you can find, in whatever form you like, or pay a little more for the convenience of buying them where you usually shop. Lactase is lactase, as long as you buy sufficient quantities of it and that's all you're buying.
I'll try to investigate the strange finding about Lacteeze.