Calcium is an important nutrient with impact upon many biological systems, most notably bone. Ensuring adequate calcium intake throughout the lifespan is essential to building and maintaining bone. Lactose intolerance may predispose individuals to low calcium intake as the number of lactose-free, calcium-rich food sources is limited. In this review, we summarize data from human and animal studies on the influence of lactose and lactase deficiency on calcium absorption and bone health. Based on the available evidence, neither dietary lactose nor lactase deficiency have a significant impact on calcium absorption in adult humans. However, lactose intolerance may lead to reduced bone density and fragility fractures when accompanied by decreased intake or avoidance of dairy. Recently published human trials and meta-analyses suggest a weak but significant association between dairy consumption and bone health, particularly in children. Given the availability of simple dietary approaches to building lactose tolerance and the nutritional deficiencies associated with dairy avoidance, multiple public health organizations recommend that all individuals—including those that are lactose intolerant—consume three servings of dairy per day to ensure adequate nutrient intakes and optimal bone health.
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