Claim Check

Out of Gas?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Claim Lactagen, a powdered supplement sold on the Web ( ; $129.95 for a 38-day supply), resolves lactose intolerance -- an inability to digest the food sugar known as lactose that results from a deficiency of the digestive enzyme lactase -- once and for all. (Lactose intolerance has proven intractable because the lack of lactase is not reversible.) Mix the product with water or juice and consume it in increasing amounts over 35 days, says the company, and ice cream, pizza, cheese and milk are yours to relish.

Longtime lactose intolerant Andrew Ritter decided, at age 13, to devise a remedy for his ailment as a science-fair project. Encouraged by his science-fair success, Ritter (who majored in business and political science at the University of Southern California) tinkered for years (he's now 24), eventually coming up with Lactagen's brew of lactobacillus acidopholus (a "probiotic," or helpful bacterium, that's found in live yogurt cultures), lactose, phosphates, and gum and silica. Ritter cites an unpublished study in which 80 percent of 27 users reported improvement in their symptoms (which include gas, bloating, diarrhea and other unpleasantries) after 38 days, compared with 19 percent on placebo.

The Plausibility Gastroenterologist Theodore Bayless, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says it's "conceivable" that a probiotic could beef up the digestive tract's bacteria population -- which could then produce protective enzymes that would shield against excess gas. But forget company claims about "calming the digestive system," he says; inflammation has nothing to do with lactose intolerance.

Bottom Line As a dietary supplement, Lactagen is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and needn't meet stringent standards of proof required of drugs. But FDA requirements prohibit the company from saying Lactagen "cures" anything. Bayless explains that whatever relief Lactagen might offer is "definitely not permanent" because the product is not "inducing" the enzyme lactase. Most of that helpful bacteria -- and the tolerance it confers -- would vanish if the user had to take an antibiotic for, say, acne or strep throat, Bayless said.

-- Jennifer Huget

© 2005 The Washington Post Company