Shrestha, A., Barnett, M.P.G., Perry, J.K. et al. Evaluation of breath, plasma, and urinary markers of lactose malabsorption to diagnose lactase non-persistence following lactose or milk ingestion. BMC Gastroenterol 20, 204 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12876-020-01352-6
Background: Adult lactase non-persistence (LNP) is due to low lactase expression, resulting in lactose malabsorption (LM). LNP is a genetic trait, but is typically determined by LM markers including breath H2, blood glucose, and urinary galactose after a lactose tolerance test. Known validity of these markers using milk is limited, despite being common practice. Compositional variation, such as β-casein variants, in milk may impact diagnostic efficacy. This study aimed to evaluate the diagnostic accuracy to detect LNP using these commonly measured LM markers after both lactose and milk challenges.
Methods: Fourty healthy young women were challenged with 50 g lactose then randomized for separate cross-over visits to ingest 750 mL milk (37.5 g lactose) as conventional (both A1 and A2 β-casein) and A1 β-casein-free (a2 Milk™) milk. Blood, breath and urine were collected prior to and up to 3 h following each challenge. The presence of C/T13910 and G/A22018 polymorphisms, determined by restriction fragment length polymorphism, was used as the diagnostic reference for LNP.
Results: Genetic testing identified 14 out of 40 subjects as having LNP (C/C13910 and G/G22018). All three LM markers (breath H2, plasma glucose and urinary galactose/creatinine) discriminated between lactase persistence (LP) and LNP following lactose challenge with an area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve (AUC) of 1.00, 0.75 and 0.73, respectively. Plasma glucose and urinary galactose/creatinine were unreliable (AUC < 0.70) after milk ingestion. The specificity of breath H2 remained high (100%) when milk was used, but sensitivity was reduced with conventional (92.9%) and a2 Milk™ (78.6%) compared to lactose (sensitivities adjusted for lactose content). The breath H2 optimal cut-off value was lower with a2 Milk™ (13 ppm) than conventional milk (21 ppm). Using existing literature cut-off values the sensitivity and specificity of breath H2 was greater than plasma glucose to detect LNP following lactose challenge whereas values obtained for urinary galactose/creatinine were lower than the existing literature cut-offs.
Conclusion: This study showed accurate diagnosis of LNP by breath H2 irrespective of the substrate used, although the diagnostic threshold may vary depending on the lactose substrate or the composition of the milk.
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
This study was funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) through the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge (HVN), with co-funding from The a2 Milk Company Ltd. (a2MC).