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Lactose Woes Require a Few Diet Changes

July 27, 1998|ED BLONZ

Dear Dr. Blonz: I recently learned that I am lactose intolerant. The one dairy item I can eat without any problem is yogurt. Even though coconut milk, soy milk and Rice Dream are not dairy products, do they contain lactose? Are there any other food products that I should avoid?

--BLOATED IN L.A.

Dear Bloated: Lactose intolerance is an inability to efficiently digest the carbohydrate (lactose) found in dairy products. Because the lactose is not digested and absorbed, it travels down the length of the digestive tract, sometimes attracting water along the way. While in the large intestine, the bacteria normally present feast on the lactose, giving off gas as a metabolic waste product. The production of gas and the presence of fluid create the cramping and digestive distress that are the symptoms of lactose intolerance. Yogurt, although made from milk, is often well-tolerated by people who have lactose intolerance because yogurt bacteria produce their own lactose-digesting enzyme, or lactase.

The only food products you should be wary of are those made with dairy products, as these are the key lactose-containing foods. Research, however, has shown that lactose-intolerant people can often tolerate small amounts of lactose (up to a cup of milk)--especially when taken as part of a mixed meal. Cheese and ice cream are not usually a problem, perhaps because their fat content allows for more mixing and a slower passage through the digestive system. Coconut milk, soy milk and Rice Dream do not contain lactose. Lactose is sometimes used as a sweetener, but it may not be present in sufficient quantities to provoke a response. If you have a strong reaction to lactose, you will have to become an avid label-reader.

There are lactase supplements that can be taken along with the food to do the digesting for you.

Dear Dr. Blonz: I am retired. I found an ad for bee capsules, touted as a rejuvenator, a complete food and nature's antibiotic. The ad claimed that the capsules contain the B vitamins, enzymes and amino acids. I purchased a jar hoping it would help me with my golf game. I have noticed an improvement in my hair. I seem to have even more energy now, and my golf game has improved. May I please have your opinion on the true effects before I purchase a year's supply?

--B.H., Beverly Hills, Fla.

Dear B.H.: The capsules you purchased contain four bee products: honey, pollen, propolis and royal jelly. There has been a wide range of health claims associated with bee products. Most are classified as anecdotal evidence, an often-used term that refers to stories that lack scientific validation. Without any readily available scientific proof, there remains skepticism about the claims for these products. For example, honey is a sweetener; although bee pollen does contain small amounts of a variety of essential nutrients, it would only be considered a good nutrition source if you were a drone bee. You can get all that it offers at considerably less cost with food.

There is some preliminary research on propolis, a resin collected by honey bees to fill cracks in their hives. Propolis is being investigated for its antimicrobial activity. It is unclear, though, how it might work in people, and how much would be needed to have a beneficial effect.

Royal jelly, the milky-white secretion produced by worker bees, is responsible for the differential growth that turns a worker bee into the queen. There is no evidence that royal jelly affects growth, development or fertility in animals.

Most of the research on bee products, it turns out, has to do with negative effects, such as allergic reactions after the consumption of such products by an allergic individual. There is, however, some research that appears to portray bee products in a more positive light. I say "appears" because I am unable to examine the research. Most of these studies are in Russian, Czech, Japanese or Chinese, making it difficult to tell whether they're anecdotal reports or actual proof.

As far as Western science is concerned, bee products remain an unknown. I am pleased that things are going well for you, but from an objective standpoint, claims that bee products can increase your energy level, help rejuvenate your body, or work as an antibiotic remain speculative and unproven.

* Ed Blonz is the author of the "Your Personal Nutritionist" book series (Signet, 1996). Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Newspaper Enterprise Assn., 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016 or e-mail to: ed@blonz.com. Personal replies cannot be provided.

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