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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
videoJapanese prepare for the afterlife by testing out coffins
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford attends Blade Runner at Target Presents AFI's Night at the Movies at ArcLight Cinemas on 24 April, 2013 in Hollywood, California
film... but Ridley Scott won't direct
Sport
Hughes is hit by a bouncer from Sean Abbott
cricketStephen Brenkley on batsman's tragic flaw that led to critical injury
Sport
Dejected England players applaud the fans following their team's 3-0 defeat
football

Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

    £25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

    Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

    £30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Supervisor / Housewares / Furniture

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital