What is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a food intolerance of the sugar lactose, which is a component of milk and milk products, among others.

Lactose Intolerance is not a disease and neither is it an allergy. Those affected suffer from bloating, gas, diarrhea and stomach pain after consumption of the sugar lactose. However, beyond these unpleasant symptoms, they do not harm their health when they enjoy lactose-containing products – which is in contrast to people who suffer from Hereditary Fructose Intolerance or Celiac Disease. Experts therefore advise people with Lactose Intolerance to closely monitor their diet, but also to carefully test their individual tolerance threshold for lactose.

Lactose Intolerance is the most common food intolerance

Between 10 and 40 percent of Germans live with Lactose Intolerance. In other countries, for examples those on the African continent, it is even more widespread. Worldwide, up to 70 percent of people are considered lactose intolerant.

Really, this isn’t surprising, claim experts with reference to the animal world. No other mammals consume milk after the first years of life. And they certainly don’t drink the milk of other species, the way humans drink cow’s or goat’s milk. In adulthood then, milk is not a natural food, the way many people suppose.

Why do people need lactase?

Nearly all babies have in their intestines a certain enzyme, whose function is to break down lactose: lactase. When milk and milk products enter the small intestine as part of the digestion process, they encounter this lactase enzyme. This breaks the milk sugar into two smaller sugars, galactose and glucose. These can be further processed by the body.

Lactose Intolerance is the rule, not the exception

The production of lactase decreases with age, though the decrease varies from person to person. Individuals of African or Asian descent do not usually produce lactase in adulthood , which is why Lactose Intolerance is not the exception but the rule. In Europeans, the decline is slower; the majority of people in Europe suffer from Lactose Intolerance only from the age of about 60 years.

After all, the fact that most Germans can tolerate milk and dairy products beyond childhood is due to chance. Until about 7500 years, the white liquid could not be tolerated by any adults. Anyone who consumed it, would suffer from severe diarrhea. Then the genetic make-up of some of our ancestors changed so that their bodies could still produce lactase even in the adulthood.

This mutation was very favorable. Those who carried the gene could use lactose, and with the milk of animals they had an additional source of food that supplied them with energy as well as vital nutrients and vitamins. For those who tolerated lactose, finding food became much easier.

This was a clear survival advantage, especially in northern countries.
To date, among the people of Northern European origin, there are many more people who can tolerate lactose than in the southern countries. In Africa and Asia, hardly anyone who can tolerate milk. Lactose Intolerance is the rule.

Lactose Intolerance is therefore not a fashionable disease, but a natural and very old phenomenon.

Please see also:

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

Diagnosing Lactose Intolerance

Treatment and therapy for Lactose Intolerance