Research Shows Only 25% of Men and 28% of Women Have the Genetic Capacity to Handle Lactose
Over 70% of adults have lactose intolerance
The average American eats more than 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of ice cream per year. For some of them, the worst consequence they’ll see is unwanted weight gain. For others, eating ice cream could cause long-term damage to their intestines.
I’m talking about lactose intolerance. Lots of people already know they’re lactose intolerant. They feel the negative effects of dairy within hours (or even minutes) of consuming it. Those people are probably already taking steps to reduce or remove lactose from their diet.
Even if you don’t think you’re lactose intolerant, you could be on the borderline. You might not have symptoms that are as severe as others, but consuming lactose can still cause inflammation in your intestines that has the potential to result in permanent damage.
Whether or not you’re lactose intolerant depends on a specific gene. New research by the DNA Company has found that only 25% of men and 28% of women have the gene that allows them to properly digest lactose. That means over 70% of people are lactose intolerant.
The history behind lactose intolerance
The ability to break down lactose in the body comes from an enzyme called lactase. Your genes determine whether or not you have this enzyme. But why are some people genetically predetermined to eat dairy and others are not?
Almost all babies have lactase because they need it to survive on their mother’s milk. As they grow, this enzyme becomes less necessary for survival...and most lose their ability to make it. Certain people continue producing the lactase enzyme, which is directly linked to their genetic evolution of tolerating dairy.
It all depends on your genes. And your genes depend on your ancestry.
If your ancestry is Northern European, you’re more likely to be able to tolerate lactose. If your ancestry is Asian, African, Middle Eastern, or American Indian, you’re more likely to be lactose intolerant. This is based on data collected as part of a Cornell study.
Why is this? The most likely explanation is based on the historical ability to raise dairy herds. Climates that are too hot or too cold are not conducive to sustaining cattle. If your ancestors didn’t raise cattle, they probably didn’t drink milk. And that’s why they never gained the ability to digest it as adults.
This is not to say that being part of one of the aforementioned racial or ethnic groups automatically makes you lactose intolerant, however. There are certain nomadic groups in Africa, for example, who have developed the ability to digest dairy. This is likely due to their history of moving seasonally to avoid extreme temperatures and find suitable food for their cattle.
The lactose intolerance gene
The primary gene responsible for determining lactose tolerance is the MCM6 gene. There are four variations of this gene that result in lactase being produced in the small intestine throughout your life. Not having one of these four variations makes you lactose intolerant.
Women are slightly more likely than men to have one of these genetic variations, and Northern Europeans are much more likely than other people groups. Think about the cuisine of various countries. Eastern Asian countries incorporate very little dairy, while Western Europeans include dairy in almost every meal.
These are the main symptoms of lactose intolerance (occurring after you consume lactose):
- Abdominal pain
In order to avoid experiencing these symptoms and protect your intestines from possible damage, there are steps you can take to relieve your lactose intolerance.
Living with lactose intolerance
The most obvious way to treat lactose intolerance is to stop eating lactose. Lactose is found in the following foods:
- Ice cream
- Sour cream
- Whipped cream
However, the amount of lactose in butter and aged cheeses is minimal. Your body should be able to digest these foods, as long as you don’t eat large quantities.
Remember, lactose can also be present in certain packaged foods. It’s best to check the label before purchasing. Most items will specify that they contain dairy. Fortunately, there are numerous dairy-free substitutes available now, and they taste better than ever.
Before you start having nightmares about never being able to eat ice cream again, let me tell you about a special kind of pill you can take prior to eating dairy. This pill is a supplement that contains lactase. Take one whenever you need a break from coconut milk ice cream or vegan pizza.
When you reduce the amount of cow’s milk you drink, you run the risk of not getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Make sure you get enough calcium by adding plenty of turnips, kale, collard greens, canned sardines, and salmon to your diet.
Sufficient vitamin D comes from sunlight exposure. According to experts, 15 minutes of sunlight a day could be enough to get the recommended amount of vitamin D. If you have darker skin, you may need more time in the sun because melanin inhibits vitamin D production.
Living with lactose intolerance isn’t as hard as it seems. Many people develop a great strategy for avoiding lactose and still getting the nutrients they need. They often find that having lactose intolerance, when treated properly, does not have a significant impact on their quality of life.
Are you eager to know whether you’re part of the 70% of adults who cannot tolerate lactose? The best way to find out is by decoding your genes through our 360 DNA Report. You’ll discover whether you’re lactose intolerant as well as 37 other custom reports surrounding sleep, hormones, fitness, cardiovascular health, immunity, and behavior.
Each custom report covers your genetic tendencies as well as practical steps you can take to optimize your health and wellness. You are a unique individual, and you deserve health strategies that reflect your unique genome. Get started today.
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