Milk causes 'serious illness for 7m Britons'

Scientists say undetected lactose intolerance is to blame for chronic fatigue, arthritis and bowel problems

Millions of British adults are suffering from serious illness because their bodies are unable to safely digest milk, a husband and wife team of biochemists have claimed.

Dr Stephanie Matthews and Professor Anthony Campbell believe at least seven million Britons suffer from chronic fatigue, arthritis-type joint problems and bowel problems because they are intolerant to lactose, a sugar which naturally occurs in milk.

Their findings - being presented at a national conference on food allergies organised by the Royal Society of Medicine on 1 July - will provoke fierce controversy in the medical world and alarm the farming and food industries.

The couple, who have already had one case study based on their theory published in the The Lancet, claim that millions of people are suffering from these illnesses because their intolerance has gone undetected.

Dr Matthews, who runs a special NHS clinic dealing with lactose intolerant patients at Llandough Hospital in Cardiff, said more than 250 patients showed marked and often complete improvements in their health after cutting milk from their diets.

After being checked with a widely recognised breath test for milk intolerance, the patients were cured of illnesses such as debilitating fatigue, headaches, persistent bowel and stomach upsets, and even asthma and tachycardia - a rapid and irregular heart beat.

"Milk is very good for you - if you can tolerate it - but if you can't, it can do you a lot of harm, and this hasn't been recognised," Dr Matthews said. Her husband, a professor at the University of Wales College of Medicine, added: "We believe we've found a major new syndrome here."

However, two of Britain's leading authorities on lactose intolerance were deeply sceptical about their claims.

Dr Paul Clayton, who will co-chair the Royal Society of Medicine conference, said he believed they had confused lactose intolerance with an allergic reaction to other proteins in milk. "I find this very hard to understand," he said.

Professor Dallas Swallow, a geneticist at the Galton Laboratory at University College London, said their theory was "implausible". Few of these illnesses, except bowel and stomach problems, had been scientifically linked to lactose intolerance. "I'm puzzled about this," she said.

Medical experts agree that about 5 per cent of white Britons become unable to digest lactose when they reach adulthood. They fall ill if they drink milk or eat foods such as breads, ready-meals or sauces which contain milk or its natural sweetener, lactose.

The proportion of lactose-intolerant adults from other ethnic groups rises sharply in the southern hemisphere and the Far East. While nearly all babies can safely drink milk, about 95 per cent of Chinese adults and about 50 per cent of north Indians grow up to be lactose intolerant.

Dr Matthews and Professor Campbell believe that at least four million white Britons suffer from this intolerance - double the accepted figure. A large majority of Britain's three million non-white adults also have that intolerance, they suspect.

Their symptoms go undetected because there can be a 24- to 36-hour gap between someone drinking milk and suffering symptoms, because lactose intolerance is often unrecognised and because their symptoms are so similar to other illnesses.

They also believe the rate of lactose intolerance has grown because far more processed foods, such as bread, beer and even sausages, use lactose as a bulking agent, texturising agent and sweetener. The lactose additive is often not labelled - chiefly because it is not seen as risky.

Professor Campbell, a biochemist who achieved fame last year after inventing a test using genetically modified proteins that change colour, said: "We're not saying milk is bad for everybody - it's a tremendous product. I take a lot of it because I'm okay."

The couple believe that sufferers become ill because they don't have the lactase enzyme that processes lactose in their small intestine. As a result, the lactose passes into the large intestine, and is then "eaten" by unsuitable gut bacteria, which then discharge toxins into the body - a theory disputed by Dr Clayton.

They admit their theory needs to be tested in a peer-reviewed scientific trial, and will apply for research funding. Their local NHS ethics committee has approved their plans to test patients referred by hospital consultants.

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

    £16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits