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September 12, 2011 at 3:38 PMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Lactose intolerance, and why it's not the end of the world

By Laura Hogg More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the A Dairy Diary Blog Series

What is lactose intolerance?

Before I go any further in this little dairy diary, I should probably give a brief explanation as to what lactose intolerance actually is. Essentially, lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person's body does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase. Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose, which is the sugar found in milk. (Side note: dairy products that are advertised as "lactose free" are actually nothing of the sort. They just have the lactase enzyme added.)

So what happens if someone who's lactose intolerant consumes milk or milk products? Well, it's hard to define absolutely, since people can have this condition in varying degrees. Some people (like yours truly) can have yogurt and hard cheese and be just fine, while others can't even tolerate a small glass of milk. Symptoms typically include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that those are four fantastic reasons for a person with lactose intolerance to avoid milk products like the plague.

It's the end of the world as we know it...

Switching gears here for a minute, I want you to imagine something. (Bear with me.) Imagine a world where humans never drink milk from cows. Babies drink milk from their mothers until around the age of 2 or 3, and from then on, never consume any kind of milk again.

Obviously, what would happen is that civilizations would crumble. With no cow's milk, there would be no calcium, and people would have bones that crack and crumble into powder. Osteoporosis would be rampant. Put simply, the human race would quietly come to an end and die out.

...or is it?

At least, that's what the dairy industry would like us to believe. The fact of the matter is this: for thousands upon thousands of years, that world I had you imagine was the reality. But somehow, the human race managed to keep on going, with nary a milk mustache to be found.

I was talking to my mom about this issue recently, and she told me that her gym teacher back in the 70's (way ahead of his time!) was against drinking cow's milk. After all these years, my mom still remembers what he used to say: "Cow's milk is for baby cows."

That's some worthwhile food (drink?) for thought. In fact, humans are the only creatures on earth who drink milk past infancy, and we're the only creatures that drink the milk of another animal. And if milk really was so great, wouldn't humans, as a general rule, be able to digest it just fine?

A quick look at the facts will show that that isn't the case. According to this map, there are over 25 countries where at least 70% of the population is lactose intolerant, and there are many countries where that number is closer to 100%. And guess what? They haven't died off yet, and many of them even have much lower rates of osteoporosis than America, in all our milk-chugging glory.

What? Seriously? But what about calcium? What about osteoporosis?

Truly, I could go on and on in this post, but I think it's best if I cut this off here and continue at a later date. In future posts, I'll address concerns such as good sources of calcium, the myth (yes, myth) that milk prevents osteoporosis, and some of the nasty things lurking in your glass of skim. (Hint: pus.)

I'd love to hear your feedback! Did you find the above stats as surprising as I did?

Source 1 | Source 2

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  • Thanks for posting this Laura. As a person who doesn't have lactose intolerance, this helps me understand what it's like to have this intolerance. There are definitely lots of other ways to get calcium in our diets besides milk! And since we are in an age of supplements, why not just take calcium daily utilizing that resource? We've come a long way since the beginning of dairy cows.

    One thing though. Isn't cheese made from cow, goat or other animal milk? So if we ingest cheese are we technically still ingesting the milk of another animal? Or is it different? Or are there cheeses out there not made from animal milk at all? Your post made me think a lot and these questions came to mind! Thanks for making me think, Laura. :)

  • As part of my having Crohn's disease, I'm finding more and more that I can't handle dairy products like I used to, so thanks for the fresh perspectives Laura. I look forward to reading more of your Dairy Diary blogs and gleaning some tips on how to cope!

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