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Learning About Lactose in Pills

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Q. I am extremely sensitive to lactose (milk sugar). My insurance company wants me to switch from Lipitor (which I take with a Lactaid pill) to a generic version, but the generic manufacturer refuses to tell me how much lactose their pills contain. We patients really can't consider generic medicines identical to the brand name pills if the companies won't come clean on their inactive ingredients.

A. We are dismayed that the company won't give you this crucial information. It may not matter to most people, but for someone who is sensitive to lactose, it could make a huge difference.

Without the enzyme lactase to break down milk sugar, this product can cause a great deal of discomfort. Bloating, gas and diarrhea are the most common side effects.

One reader wrote us: "I have had stomach pain and diarrhea for years, but over the last few months it reached a crisis. The pain was so bad I couldn't get comfortable sitting or even lying down. My stomach swelled up like a beach ball.

"My doctor didn't know what was wrong. I finally asked my pharmacist if any of my pills had milk sugar (lactose). Every single one of the half dozen pills I take contains lactose. Even though I am extremely careful about my diet (no dairy), I had no idea that my pills were poisoning me."

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Would suggest the writer ask his/her pharmacist for this info rather than talking to the generic mfr directly. Manufacturers are often reluctant to talk directly to consumers, esp. a generic manufacturer who simply has no real direct-to-consumer marketing organization to oversee the response.

We even have to watch out for natural remedies. I'm extremely lactose-intolerant, too, and after a round of antibiotics, I was taking probiotics to restore my gut. But nothing got better - if anything, it got worse. Then I finally thought to look at the inactive ingredients in the probiotic, and lo and behold, Lactose! So I switched to another probiotic, and now all is well.

In a world of constant change, your column has been one of sage advice and helpfulness to me for most of the 30 years you have been on radio and in newspapers, in books, and of course, online.

I first gained respect for you years ago when your column in the Phila. Inquirer ran your advice for lactose intolerance. Up to that time, no doctors could seem to put their finger on my digestive problems. The health insurance co. I was insured with threatened to hike the premium if the problems I complained with were not discovered.

My husband read your information and I immediately scheduled an appointment with the hospital to test for lastose intolerance. A belated thanks for all you two have done for the benefit of humankind.

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE:

Mary, you have definitely made our month! We sometimes forget how long we have been doing this (our syndicated newspaper column started in Nov. 1978). We are so pleased that we made a difference in your life.

Joe & Terry Graedon

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