Lactase is an enzyme that you can take in supplemental form that helps your body digest lactose, which is a form of sugar found in dairy products.
Lactase allows people with lactose intolerance to enjoy dairy without the gastrointestinal side effects, like bloating and nausea, that can happen when you eat dairy.
Everyone is born with the ability to produce the lactase enzyme in their body, but many people lose the ability to produce this enzyme when they grow up.
If you want to enjoy the taste and the health benefits of dairy products even if you are lactose intolerant, our researchers have ranked the ten best lactase supplements on the market.
1. Kirkland Signature Fast Acting Lactase
Kirkland Signature Fast Acting Lactase is a high dosage and rapidly dissolving lactase supplement.
With 9000 units of lactase per capsule, this lactase supplement is well-suited for dairy-heavy meals and for people who need a lot of lactase to be able to process dairy without digestive problems.
2. NOW Dairy Digest Complete
NOW Dairy Digest Complete is the best choice when it comes to a comprehensive lactase supplement that offers more than just the enzyme.
This supplement offers 1000 units of lactase, as well as protease and lipase, which help digest proteins and fats, respectively. Both of these are found in dairy products like yogurt, cheese, and ice cream, so you’ll digest these foods better with NOW Dairy Digest Complete.
The main downside is the low dosage of lactase—you’ll need to take at least two or three of these capsules before a meal, and people who have more severe lactose intolerance should probably opt for a higher dose lactase supplement.
3. Nature’s Way Lactase Enzyme
Nature’s Way Lactase Enzyme has a slightly higher than average dose of 3450 units of lactase in every capsule, but it really stands out for its clean supplement design.
If all you want is a lactase supplement in a simple capsule without any binders, fillers, or special formulations for fast release, this should be your choice.
4. Schiff Digestive Advantage
Schiff Digestive Advantage uses a combination of probiotic bacteria and 3000 lactase units per capsule to provide a more robust defense against foods with lactose in them.
The bacillus coagulans probiotic also helps break down lactose and improves your gut flora, but the actual dosage of probiotics (0.5 billion CFUs) is not very substantial compared to a full-blown probiotic supplement.
In addition, there are some coloring agents and binders that you won’t find in a cleaner supplement, but even so, some people will be willing to put up with this for the probiotic content alongside the lactase content.
5. Lactaid Original
Lactaid Original is a very popular lactase supplement that’s been around for a long time. At 3000 units of lactase per capsule, the dosage is solid, and the supplement design is reasonably clean (though not the greatest).
There’s a fast-acting formulation too, but Lactaid Original is intended to be taken prior to a meal that contains lactose.
6. Guardian Fast Acting Dairy Relief
Guardian Fast Acting Dairy Relief is a high-dose fast-acting lactase supplement. It delivers 9000 units of lactase per capsule, and does so rapidly thanks to the quick-dissolving properties of the tablet.
However, for these benefits, you have to put up with a lot of binders, fillers, and other additives. It’s very practical, but not the best as far as purity goes.
7. Seeking Health Lactase Drops
Seeking Health Lactase Drops are a liquid formulation, which is unusual for a lactase supplement. This approach offers a number of drawbacks: for one, the lactase dosage per serving is much lower, at only 750 units, and second, the dosage is trick to measure out by yourself.
That being said, Seeking Health Lactase Drops do have one excellent niche use, which is with infants, who obviously can’t take a tablet or capsule.
The super-clean ingredients list—just water, glycerine, and lactase enzyme—makes this an excellent choice if your infant or toddler needs a lactase supplement.
8. Best Naturals Natural Lactase Enzyme
Best Naturals Natural Lactase Enzyme is a fast-dissolving tablet, though its dosage is lower, at 3000 units of lactase per tablet.
The fast-acting formulation makes it a good choice if you didn’t realize you’d eaten a meal with lactose in it, though it’ll still be more effective taken prior to, versus after, a meal. The supplement design isn’t the cleanest, but it is effective.
9. Certified Plus Original Dairy Relief
Certified Plus Original Dairy Relief has a moderate 3000 lactase unit dosage, which will work well for people with mild to moderate lactose intolerance.
It’s not fast release, and the supplement formulation is a little bloated with extra ingredients and binders, so purists and those looking for quick relief won’t be pleased, but it’s still an okay choice for most others.
10. Nova Nutritions Lactase Enzyme
Nova Nutritions Lactase Enzyme has a middle of the road dosage of 3000 units of lactase per tablet.
It’s not a fast-dissolving tablet, and its design doesn’t really stand out from the rest of the crowd, making it hard to rank any higher.
Lactase benefits and side effects
Lactase is an enzyme that you can take to help your body digest dairy products. It’s essential if you are lactose intolerant but still want to enjoy some of the health benefits (or even just the taste) of dairy.
Many people—up to 70% of the world’s population, in fact—are lactose intolerant, because their body stops producing lactase naturally as they grow up.
When people with lactose intolerance eat dairy products, their body can’t digest the lactose present, so bacteria in their stomach and intestines that can digest lactose proliferate, producing gas, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea.
One solution is to avoid dairy completely, but taking a lactase enzyme means you don’t need to totally cut dairy out from your diet.
Lactase can help you take advantage of the health benefits of dairy. Epidemiological research has shown a wide range of benefits associated with eating dairy, such as stronger bones, lower blood pressure, and a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes (1, 2, 3).
These benefits are thought to be the result of the high-quality nutritional content of dairy, which includes large amounts of calcium, vitamin D (in fortified dairy), protein, and other compounds like conjugated linoleic acid.
These beneficial compounds work in conjunction with each other to make dairy foods an excellent source of health benefits, but unfortunately, these benefits can be off the table if you are lactose intolerant.
The irritating gastrointestinal effects that occur when people with lactose intolerance eat a lot of dairy makes these benefits not worth it for many people, unless they take a lactase supplement to prevent the gastrointestinal side effects.
Lactase supplements are most effective when taken with solid food. Lactase itself is a digestive enzyme that breaks down the sugar lactose into digestible constituents that your body can absorb.
However, it takes some time for lactase to work, so consuming a lactase supplement on an empty stomach, then drinking a glass of milk, could still produce symptoms of lactose intolerance. This was the conclusion of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (4).
In it, researchers used an objective measure of lactose-digesting bacteria activity to demonstrate that lactose was better-absorbed by the body when a lactase supplement was taken alongside solid food, versus when it was taken on an empty stomach.
The reason for this, according to the authors, is that having solid food in your stomach slows the rate at which food and drink empty out of your stomach, which gives the lactase supplement more time to work.
This implies that lactase supplements are going to be most effective for large meals that happen to contain dairy, but may not work as well for liquid dairy products eaten without any other food.
People respond differently to the same dose of lactase. Because the natural levels of lactase vary in your body, and because the rate your body digests food differs from other people, the dose and timing of lactase that works for someone else may not work the same for you.
This was demonstrated in a 1992 study in the journal Clinical Pharmacology, in which 24 subjects took the exact same dose of lactose-containing milk on two occasions: once after taking a lactase supplement, and once after taking a placebo (5).
The researchers measured the amount of lactose that was digested by bacteria in the stomach (versus absorbed by the body) and found that there was quite a lot of person to person variability.
Three people experienced essentially no improvement after taking the lactase supplement, and at the same time, three different subjects had huge decreases in the amount of lactose taken up by intestinal bacteria. Most subjects demonstrated a marked improvement, though.
While a pessimistic interpretation of this finding suggests that lactase won’t work for some people, this experiment did use the “worst case”—a large, liquid dose of lactose on an empty stomach. If you find that a lactase supplement isn’t getting rid of your gastrointestinal symptoms after eating dairy, you can try a higher dosage.
Since lactase is an enzyme that is naturally produced by your body, it’s very rare to develop any side effects as a result of taking a lactase supplement.
The medical literature has documented a few cases of allergy to lactase supplements, but these are extremely rare (X).
Typically, the people who develop an allergy to lactase are workers at supplement factories who are exposed to large amounts of lactase on a day-to-day basis.
The amount of lactase that you need is going to depend both on the severity of your lactose intolerance, and the quantity of lactose present in the food you are eating.
Someone with fairly mild lactose intolerance eating something like cheese, which does not have very much lactose in it, may only need a 1000-3000 unit dose of lactase.
However, the scientific literature typically uses larger doses of 9000 units to demonstrate the efficacy of taking a lactase supplement (6).
You may need to experiment a bit, both with dosage level and with your timing of pre-meal lactase supplement ingestion, before you strike a combination that works for you.
Dairy products offer a lot of health benefits, but unfortunately, people who have lactose intolerance are often prevented from taking advantage of these benefits.
A lactase supplement is a way to get around this. By consuming the enzyme that helps your body digest lactose in a supplement, you prevent the gas-producing bacteria in your stomach and intestines from digesting the lactose.
A lactase supplement works best at a dose of 3000 to 9000 units of lactase, though the specific dosage and pre-meal timing will vary from person to person, and will also vary according to the lactose content of the meal.
Aged dairy foods like cheese have less lactose, while fresh dairy products like milk have more. Finally, a lactase supplement tends to work better when you take it with food, because this slows down the rate at which lactose leaves your stomach.
Because it stays in proximity to the lactase enzymes longer, more of the lactose gets broken down, and you’re less likely to have gastrointestinal symptoms.
Once you get the dosage and timing right, a lactase supplement can be a game changer for people who want to enjoy the taste and the health benefits of dairy foods, but can’t because their body doesn’t produce lactase naturally anymore.