Oral lactose and glucose/galactose loading tests were done in Bantu children convalescing from kwashiorkor and pellagra. Small bowel biopsies and disaccharidase estimations were performed in all except 2 patients. Lactose absorption was more impaired and intestinal lactase levels were lower in the pellagra than in the kwashiorkor group. The fact that diarrhoea after admission to hospital was less common in pellagra than kwashiorkor was ascribed to a lesser lactose load due to the early introduction of a mixed diet in the former group, in comparison with milk feeds only in the latter group. The absence of troublesome diarrhoea while on moderate quantities of lactose in the diet, in the presence of low intestinal lactase levels, but evidence of lactose malabsorption after loading, has a bearing on preventive and therapeutic nutrition programmes in non-Caucasian children. Lactase deficiency is not necessarily synonymous with symptomatic lactose intolerance if the threshold is not exceeded. Concern is expressed that excessive caution against the use of milk may lead to a worsening of infantile malnutrition in developing countries.
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