Hard to believe, but I started this blog seven years ago. That means I've watched entire generations of products come onto the market, leave, and come back again. It's like watching a time lapse movie of glaciers advancing and retreating.
The glaciers are back. Or let me set the scene for the new news.
Everybody who is lactose intolerant should know all about lactase. Lactase is the enzyme that digests lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. Digesting means breaking a complex chemical down to its simplest components: amino acids for proteins, fatty acids for fats, and simple sugars for carbohydrates. Lactose is a sugar, which is a carbohydrate. More importantly, it is a complex sugar, a disaccharide, composed of two simple sugars, glucose and galactose. Lactose is too big to be absorbed into the body through the small intestine, but the glucose and galactose that result when lactase splits it go through easily. Virtually every human - and every mammal - is born with the ability to manufacture enough lactase to digest the lactose int their mother's milk. And most humans - and virtually all mammals - lose that ability as they age. Result: lactose intolerance, defined here as the symptoms produced by the presence of undigested lactose in the intestines.
Until the 1970s there was absolutely nothing that could be done about this. Then Gist-Brocades, a Dutch pharmaceutical firm, discovered a way to get yeast to produce their own version of lactase, which could be harvested. This wasn't artificial lactase, but the real stuff. Or at least a variant.
Quick sidenote about enzymes. An enzyme is a catalyst, a chemical that speeds up other chemical reactions without being affected itself. Left alone lactose would still break down to its simple sugars. It might take longer than your lifetime for this to happen, but chemically it must happen. Nothing stays inside your intestines for more than a few days so waiting a lifetime is out of the question. Lactase, though, speeds up the process to near instantaneously. That ability makes enzymes vital to life. The body manufactures some 500,000 of them. Without them your chemistry would simply stall to a stop. And so would you.
All the enzymes are very complex proteins. And like all very complex proteins lactase can be put together in a multitude of ways. All the lactases work at the primary task of digesting lactose but they can be engineered to work best - i.e., split lactose fastest - under different conditions. Some lactases work best at body temperature and in high acidity. These are used to make the classic lactase pills, capsules, and tablets that you chew or swallow with food. Your stomach is notoriously acidic and always at body temperature.
That wasn't the first lactase that Gist-Brocades found. That lactase worked best in cool temperature with low acidity. Those happen to be conditions found in a container of milk sitting in a refrigerator. So they marketed the lactase as a powder to be added to fresh milk or other liquid dairy products. Once mixed in, the lactase worked over a day or so inside the milk and could be drunk the next day as lactose-reduced and symptom-free milk.
Remember, you can't substitute one for the other and expect it to work very well. Don't try to mix regular lactase pills into liquid dairy. There's no harm to doing so, but you aren't going to have low-lactose milk in the end.
Powders have some disadvantages. The main one that bothered people at the time was that they sometimes didn't dissolve completely, especially if the stirring in wasn't thorough. Powders were on the market for a few years even so. The first version of what then was called "Lact-Aid" was a powder. After a few years, a liquid version was developed. A few drops of liquid dissolved much more quickly and easily than the powders.
Fast forward to 2008. (Look at that glacier melt!) Lactase drops never were a huge seller and for a time every firm in America stopped making them. Customers had to write away to Canadian firms like Lacteeze to get a supply. I called it Huge News! when a firm called Pharmax started making lactase drops available in the U.S. again, saving huge amounts on postage. As I could have told them, the market for lactase drops hadn't increased. They stopped making the drops in 2010.
Lacteeze made them available the whole time, to be sure, and other U.S. firms now also sell liquid lactase. To my surprise, Pharmax is back in business. Making lactase powder.
Product DescriptionI'm assuming this means they've developed ways of increasing the dissolvability of the powder. The reviews on Amazon are positive. You can find Pharmax Lactase Powder on many health sites, so no need to go to Amazon. I found the image of the bottle on the PureFormulas.com site.
Lactase Powder 1.6oz Supplement
Serving Size: 1 scoop
Servings Per Container: 75
Amount Per Serving: Lactase enzyme 12.6 mg(providing 615 LAU lactase units
Other Ingredients: Maltodextrin.
Recommended intake: Add one scoop of Lactase Powder to water or juice prior to consumption of dairy products or as professionally directed.
If you want to make low-lactose dairy products at home, probably more cheaply than the fairly expensive store brands, you should give this a try.