Nutrition Myths
Advertisement

Lactase Persistence

Lactase persistence is the ability of adult humans to digest lactose. This ability has its origins in different parts of the world (which occurred through convergent evolution) such as Central and Northern Europe, West Africa, the Middle East and western India.

Genetic changes allowing for lactase persistence started to spread quickly after the introduction of milkable domestic animals, especially in Northern Europe about 8,000 years ago. (1, 2)

Historically, before the development of agriculture and the domestication of animals milk was only available from the lactating mothers. Its supply stopped after the weaning period.

With a sudden change in diet from breastfeeding through weaning, specifically because of the absence of milk, lactase was not required anymore and so its production by the body was drastically reduced.

Around 8000 years ago, Europe started domesticating milk-producing animals, allowing the consumption of milk on a regular basis. The trend spread to the Middle East and West India. (3)

In Africa, especially in the countries south of the Sahara, lactose persistence most likely originated thanks to the domestication of the camel. (4)

Consistent milk consumption existed in these locations for about 8,000 years which allowed for the genetic mutation to occur resulting in lactase persistence.

To visualize the centers of lactose persistence or see where lactose intolerance is most prevalent, see the following map. Red color represents the most lactose tolerant populations, while blue represents a high percentage of lactose intolerance. The further from the centers, the more lactose intolerant the populations are. (5)

Lactase persistance map

Related Posts

Milk allergy symptoms and causes Milk allergy, or dairy allergy, is an adverse immune response to the protein in cow’s milk, that mainly affects children. The symptoms depend on the amount of dairy consumed and the severity of the allergy and include vo...
Calcium What is calcium? How much calcium do you need? Benefits of calcium. Best food sources of calcium.
Milk Nutrition Facts Milk - Nutrition Facts
Saturated fat – is it really bad for you? There is no evidence that saturated fat causes atherosclerosis or heart disease. Foods with saturated fat provide more health benefits than health risks.
Coffee with milk – is it bad for you? Drinking coffee with milk does not harm your health, but it lowers by 23% the absorption of an important antioxidant available in coffee, called chlorogenic acid. This is true if you don't experience negative side effect...
Advertisement
Advertisement

Get updates

Receive regular updates on nutrition myths, facts and curiosities. All based on the latest scientific evidence.