Llama Milk & Lactose

The llama, an animal classified in the camelid family with camels and alpacas, lives in the Andean Mountain region of South America. As a domesticated animal, llamas can work like a horse or mule pulling a cart or carrying packs, while leaving a smaller environmental footprint, meaning they do less damage to the fields or trails. Llamas can guard sheep, produce high quality wool and graze in pastures, making them useful and easy to maintain as a livestock animal. Because they are mammals, female llamas produce milk to feed their young. Their milk contains lactose.

What is Lactose?

Sugar molecules consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms hooked together to form a ring. Sugar exists in a variety of chemical forms including sucrose or table sugar; fructose, which is found in fruit; and lactose, the sugar in milk. Lactose consists of two smaller sugar molecules known as glucose and galactose bound together. Lactose does not taste as sweet as table sugar, but does give milk and other dairy products their slightly sweet flavor. Milk produced by all mammals, including llamas, contains lactose.

Llama Milk Composition

Like all mammals, llamas produce milk to feed their babies, known as crias. Llama milk contains more protein than cow’s milk and goat’s milk, with 4.23 percent protein compared to 3.3 percent in cow’s milk and 2.9 percent in goat’s milk, according to the Alpaca Breeders of Southern California. Llama milk also contains more calcium with 1,701 ppm as compared to 1,080 ppm in cow’s milk and 1,400 in goat’s milk. In addition llama milk contains higher amounts of phosphorus and potassium. Despite the nutritional advantages llama milk offers, it likely will not replace cow’s milk or goat’s milk as a major source of milk due to the small population of llamas and their low milk production.

Llama Milk Lactose

Only 80,000 to 100,000 llamas live in the United States, a small population when compared to other livestock used for milk production, according to the Llama Lifestyle Marketing Association 2. In addition, each female llama only produces about 60 mL of milk at a time, which means their young must suckle often to get adequate nutrition. Although you can drink llama milk, many people looking for a substitute for cow’s milk need a milk product that does not contain lactose due to lactose intolerance. Llama’s milk contains a higher lactose content than cow’s milk with 5.93 percent lactose compared to 4.7 percent.

Lactose Intolerance

When you consume milk and dairy products your body must break down the lactose to absorb the sugar and convert it to usable energy. The enzyme called lactase, produced by the cells lining the small intestine, breaks the bond between the glucose and galactose molecules. The small intestine can then absorb the smaller sugar molecules. Babies produce large amounts of lactase to digest the lactose in their milk. As you age, your body slows down the production of lactase. Without enough lactase, you cannot absorb the lactose and it stays in the digestive tract. The large intestine tries to break down the lactose through a process of fermentation carried out by bacteria. This causes the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance, which include chronic diarrhea, gas, bloating and stomach pains.