Is it true that most Asian people are lactose intolerant?

Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk. Around two thirds of the Asian population have trouble digesting lactose.

Last updated 04/04/2024

Babies have a special enzyme called lactase that helps them digest the natural sugars found in their mother's milk. As we grow up, we retain the ability to digest lactose (which is also found in cow’s milk) but to different extents.

In places like Europe where people traditionally consume a lot of milk, most adults continue producing lactase throughout their lives. This means they can comfortably enjoy milk, and only about 5% of the population there is unable to digest lactose, experiencing symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, and cramps.[1]

Lactose intolerance doesn't necessarily mean completely avoiding dairy. The amount of lactose that causes symptoms can vary among individuals diagnosed with lactose intolerance.[2] According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, consuming up to 250ml of milk (equivalent to about 12–15g of lactose) throughout the day or with other foods can often be tolerated without causing symptoms.[3]

Additionally, most hard cheeses have very little or no lactose, while yogurt contains helpful bacteria that aid in digesting lactose. For those who struggle with lactose, there are low-lactose and lactose-free milk and yogurt options available.


[1] Storhaug CL, Fosse SK, Fadnes LT. Country, regional, and global estimates for lactose malabsorption in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Oct;2(10):738-746. doi: 10.1016/S2468-1253(17)30154-1. Epub 2017 Jul 7.

[2] Savaiano DA, Boushey CJ, McCabe GP. Lactose intolerance symptoms assessed by meta-analysis: a grain of truth that leads to exaggeration. J Nutr. 2006 Apr;136(4):1107-13.

[3] National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

Was this useful?

Thank you for your feedback