The effect of nonfermented dairy products containing yogurt or acidophilus cultures on lactose utilization by lactose-maldigesting humans was investigated. Yogurt and acidophilus milk containing 10(7) or 10(8) of Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, or Lactobacillus acidophilus, respectively, were prepared using commercially processed 2% low fat milk. Immediately following inoculation, products were refrigerated. Lactose maldigestion was monitored by measuring breath hydrogen excretion at hourly intervals for 8 h following consumption of 400 ml of each test meal containing approximately 20 g of lactose. The yogurt milk containing 10(8) cfu/ml was shown to contain significant concentrations of microbial beta-galactosidase (EC 18.104.22.168; approximately 3 U/ml), which remained stable for at least 14 d at refrigerator temperatures. Breath hydrogen peaks were delayed and significantly lower (approximately 20 ppm at 5 to 7 h) than control values (approximately 70 ppm at 4 h), and intolerance symptoms were eliminated in all subjects. Yogurt milk containing 10(7) cfu/ml demonstrated intermediate breath hydrogen values and was marginally significantly different from control values. Lactobacillus acidophilus strains with varying resistance to bile and total beta-galactosidase-producing potential were also tested. Only one strain, LA-1, which demonstrated low bile resistance and intermediate beta-galactosidase activity, was capable of significantly decreasing breath hydrogen values when 10(8) cfu/ml of milk was consumed.