What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is an intolerance of the sugar lactose that is a component of milk and other dairy products.
This intolerance is neither an illness nor an allergy. However, those affected suffer from flatulence, diarrhea and stomach pains after consuming lactose. Due to this, experts recommend that patients with lactose intolerance pay attention to their diet but test out their own tolerance threshold for lactose carefully.
Lactose Intolerance is the most common food intolerance.
Between 10 and 40% of Germans live with lactose intolerance. The amount is much higher in other countries, particularly in Africa. Up to 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant.
Experts are not shocked by this fact when they consider the animal kingdom: no mammal consumes milk after the initial few years of their life, and definitely not other species’ milk, like humans drink cow and goat milk. Adults are not supposed to drink milk naturally, contrary to what many people think.
Why do people need lactase?
Almost all babies have an enzyme in their intestine that can break down the sugar lactose found in milk: lactase. If milk or dairy products reach the small intestine in the chyme, they come into contact with the lactase enzyme. This breaks the sugar down into smaller sugars - galactose and glucose. Both can be further processed by the body.
Lactose Intolerance is the norm, not the exception.
The production of lactase reduces with age - this happens at different rates from person to person. Africans and Asians usually don’t produce lactase anymore in adulthood. This is why lactose is the rule, not the exception. Among Europeans the reduction is much slower, the majority of which only exhibit lactose intolerance from the age of 60.
After all, it’s pure coincidence that most Germans can tolerate milk and dairy products past their childhood. Up until about 7500 years ago, the white stuff was intolerable for all adults. Anyone who drank it experienced bad diarrhea. Then, some of our ancestors’ genetics changed in such a way that their bodies continued to produce lactase in adulthood.
This mutation was a great advantage. Anyone who consumed lactose could use it - they had a new food source in the form of animal milk that not only gave them energy but other nutrients and vitamins. Nutrition was much easier for people that could tolerate lactose.
In northern countries, it was a great advantage for survival.
Even today, a significantly higher percentage of people with northern European heritage can tolerate lactose than in southern countries. There are very few people in Africa and Asia who can tolerate milk. Lactose intolerance is there norm there.
Therefore, lactose intolerance isn’t some fashionable condition, its a very old, natural phenomenon.