Lactose intolerance and coeliac disease – is there a link?

A visitor to our forums recently asked the following question:

I have been trying to find information on the link between lactose intolerance and coeliac disease.

The fact that many coeliacs, generally those who are undiagnosed or not sticking to their diet, can develop lactose intolerance is well documented. However, I am wondering if lactose intolerance can be a precursor to coeliac disease?

I saw one sentance in a report that said that there have been cases that have shown that babies with lactose intolerance from birth can go on to develop coeliac disease even when the lactose intolerance precedes the child having gluten in their diet. Do you have any information on this?

Both my sons are lactose intolerant, my husband is coeliac. The children are 2 years and 4 months old and 4 months old. Neither have had gluten in their diet and were doing well, but my older son is currently on a gluten inclusion programme in preparation for testing for coeliac. I am wondering what the chances are that both the boys will go on to be coeliacs.

We took the query to Professor Paul Ciclitira, the professor of gastroenterology at St Thomas' Hospital in London where he runs dedicated clinics for patients with coeliac disease, IBD and IBS. He said:

'Twenty percent of all Caucasians in the UK have a degree of lactose intolerance. In addition 100% of individuals with untreated coeliac disease experience a degree of lactose intolerance which usually resolves on a gluten-free diet. I trust this answers the query.'

So it would appear that lactose intolerance may indeed be an indicator of existing but untreated coeliac disease although there is no causal relationship. And that it would therefore be prudent to test any child with lactose intolerance and a parent with coeliac disease for the condition.


Click here for more articles on the causes of coeliac disease.


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