Lactose

Lactose Intolerance

Disaccharides are sugars that get formed when two simple sugars (monosaccharide) come together. Sucrose, maltose, and lactose are the most common disaccharides out there. You are already familiar with the latter one, that is, lactose. It is the primary element found in the milk of all mammals. In contrast with the majority of saccharides, lactose is not sweet. In simple words, lactose is a sugar that’s in milk. It gets used by the body for energy and numerous other functions. However, most people have difficulty in digesting lactose. In this article, you can learn about lactose intolerance, its symptoms, and the structure of lactose.  

What is Lactose?

Lactose is a disaccharide containing two units, glucose and galactose. These units get bonded together by 1-4 glycosidic bonds in a beta orientation. Our bodies use an enzyme called lactase to digest the lactose, so it gets absorbed into the body. But, people not having adequate lactase in their body suffer from lactose intolerance. 

Lactose Monohydrate 

You can find lactose monohydrate mainly in milk and dairy products. It’s a naturally occurring disaccharide. You should know that lactose crystals have the water of crystallization due to which molecular mass becomes 360.3 g/mol as compared to 342.3 g/mol of anhydrous lactose. It is available in the white, crystalline powder. 

Lactose monohydrate is soluble in water and slightly soluble in ethanol. Also, when the disaccharide gets heated to 418K temperature, it results in the loss of one of the molecules of water from lactose anhydrous. Below you can have a look at the structure of lactose monohydrate. 


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Formation of Lactose Monohydrate 

Lactose monohydrate is the crystalline form of lactose, and it’s the primary carbohydrate in cow’s milk. It gets composed of two simple sugars, galactose and glucose bonded together. It is found in two forms having different chemical structures – alpha and beta-lactose.

Lactose monohydrate gets produced when alpha-lactose from cow’s milk gets exposed to low temperatures until crystals begin to form. Further, the unwanted moisture gets dried off to render a dry, white or pale yellow powder. 


It tastes slightly sweet and much similar to the milk. In simple words, lactose monohydrate gets produced by crystallizing lactose, the primary sugar in cow’s milk, into a dry powder. 


Uses of Lactose Monohydrate 

  • In food and pharmaceuticals, lactose monohydrate gets known as milk sugar. Since it has long shelf-life, sweet taste, great mix-ability, it has a great range of applications.

  • Mostly, it gets used as a food additive and filler for drug capsules. A major chunk of its application involves industrial use and not domestic. 

  • Fillers such as lactose monohydrate get added to an active drug in a medication. So, it can render a pill or tablet, which is easy to swallow or consume. 

  • As a matter of fact, 20% of prescription drugs and 65% of OTC drugs like calcium supplements, birth control pills, and acid reflux medications use lactose. 

  • It also gets added in infant formulas, packaged snacks, and frozen meals. Further, processed cookies, cake, pastries, soups, sauces, and other food items contain the lactose too. 

  • The main purpose of using lactose is to add sweetness or serve as a stabilizer so that ingredients don’t mess up. 

  • Animal feeds have lactose monohydrates as it facilitates an affordable way to up the food volume and weight.       


Lactose Intolerance

If your body cannot digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy goods, you have lactose intolerance. The condition occurs when the small intestine doesn’t produce adequate lactase, the enzyme that helps digest the lactose.  

So, when your body is not producing enough lactase, the lactose you consume via dairy products doesn’t get digested. Instead, it gets treated or broken down by the bacteria in your colon, which further causes gas. It all can escalate quickly and show unpleasant symptoms. 


Symptoms of lactose intolerance: These symptoms rely on the lactase production in your body. The typical symptoms of lactose intolerance include diarrhoea, vomiting, gas, gurgling, bloating, aches or cramps, etc.    

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is the role of lactose in the body? 

Answer: Glucose and galactose are the two main components of lactose. These are the two simple sugars that get used as energy directly by your body. Lactase, an enzyme in our body, breaks down the lactose into glucose and galactose. Human milk fulfils up to 50% of an infant’s energy needs. Galactose has numerous biological functions, and it serves in immunological and neural processes. Lactose may also play a role in the absorption of calcium and other minerals like copper and zinc, especially during infancy. When lactose doesn’t get digested in the small intestine, it gets used as a prebiotic or a nutrient by the intestinal microbiota.

2. Why does lactose intolerance occur? 

Answer: Lactose is a primary sugar (or carbohydrate) naturally found in milk and other dairy products. Our body has a natural enzyme called lactase that helps to break down the lactose, and then, the body absorbs energy from it. A majority of people have trouble digesting lactose because of the decline in the lactase activity called weaning, also known as non-persistence of lactase. Also, the gene coding for lactose tends to become less active with age. Some people sustain the ability to produce lactase, while some lose it after the infancy. Lactose intolerance takes place when lactose maldigestion leads to symptoms of intestinal discomfort like bloating, diarrhoea, and gas.