What Class of Enzymes Does Lactase Belong To?

Your genes decide whether you can digest dairy products.
••• Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images

If eating a bowl of ice cream gives you horrible gas, your body might not be manufacturing lactase. This enzyme breaks down milk sugar, or lactose, into smaller sugars that your body can digest. Normally, infants and Europeans have no trouble producing lactase, but many Asians can't and are lactose-intolerant. Even if you lack the ability to make lactase, you can still enjoy ice cream if you take a lactase pill as you dig in.

Glycoside Hydrolase

Lactase belongs to the glycoside hydrolase class of enzymes, responsible for cleaving carbohydrates as well as other molecules attached to carbohydrates. Glycoside hydrolases can cleave groups that include the elements sulfur and oxygen. Different members of the enzyme class can break down cellulose, sugar-protein complexes and other sugars and starches. Lactase belongs to the beta-galactosidase family of glycoside hydrolase enzymes. This family contains enzymes that hydrolyze, or break apart, molecules containing galactose, a sugar with six carbon atoms that is less sweet than glucose.

Lactase and Lactose

The sugar lactose consists of a galactose and a glucose molecule joined by a glycosidic bond. Lactase breaks this bond, allowing your body to absorb the two smaller sugars. Cells in the small intestine are primarily responsible for creating lactase. The indigestion that lactose-intolerant people experience comes from the genetic inability to create lactase. The undigested lactose passes into the large intestine where bacteria feast on it, producing byproducts such as methane. The result is an unpleasant mixture of symptoms. Fortunately for ice cream lovers, you can buy dairy products to which lactase has been added. Lactase pills are also effective.

Related Articles

Types of Digestive Enzymes
The Activity of the Lactase Enzyme
Sources of the Lactase Enzyme
What Role Do Vitamins Play in Enzyme Activity?
What Is the Difference Between Rennin & Rennet?
What Happens When There Is No Oxygen Available at the...
Your Body On: Halloween Candy
Types of Spore Forming Bacteria
Common Reducing Sugars
Why Do We Need Enzymes for Digestion?
What Can Stop Glycolysis?
How Does Asparagus Make Urine Smell?
Dangers of Phosphoric Acid
When Does Lactic Acid Fermentation Occur?
Feeling 'Hangry' is Normal and You Can Blame Your Brain
What Types of Bacteria Produce Endospores?
Names of the Enzymes in the Mouth & Esophagus
Industrial Uses of Pepsin
What Is the PH of a Sugar Solution?