On a recent visit to my father’s house in Devon, I found myself flicking through a copy of Creation magazine, which aims to proclaim and uphold the truth and authority of the bible around the world. It includes many articles about Darwin’s theories, carbon dating and lots of fascinating analysis of theories such as creationism, evolution etc. Not everyone’s cup of tea I’m sure, but one headline caught my eye – “Can’t drink milk? You’re normal!”
Milk drinkers are mutants!
For years I’ve been feeling like the odd one out, having struggled all my life with a severe allergy to all dairy, amongst other things. Here was an article proclaiming that I’m the normal one! It’s all you cheese eating, milk guzzling, cream cake chomping freaks out there who are the mutants. I leafed through the magazine to find the right page and sat back to digest these words of wisdom. This is what it said, in a nutshell.
What is the difference between lactase and lactose?
The enzyme lactase digests dairy foods by breaking down the milk sugar lactose into glucose, which the body can then absorb and use. Without this enzyme that process can’t take place. The body can’t get rid of the lactose easily so it passes into the colon undigested and there the trouble begins. The deficient person can suffer from bloating, skin rashes, diarrhoea, cramps and all manner of unpleasant side effects. This is what happens to someone with a milk intolerance.
Why can some people not drink milk?
Research has shown however that the gene for lactase normally switches off as children are weaned. A genetic mutation occurs, resulting in lactase production not being switched off, which accounts for the ability of some people to drink milk and consume dairy products into adulthood. It is estimated that 75% of adults worldwide show some decrease in lactase activity during adulthood. The frequency of decreased lactase activity ranges from as little as 5% in northern Europe, up to 71% for Sicily, to more than 90% in some African and Asian countries.
Why can milk intolerance people eat some dairy products OK?
Many lactose intolerant people can consume some dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurt without experiencing the debilitating symptoms they get after drinking milk. This is because there is less lactose in such fermented products, as the bacteria (e.g. lactobacilli) have already fermented most of the lactose in the original milk into lactic acid during production. They may also be able to tolerate Lactose free milk, which is available in most supermarkets.
Some countries have high prevalence of milk intolerance
It’s interesting to consider why some African and Asian countries have such low tolerance to dairy. They don’t tend to consume dairy in their daily diets, but they are also deficient in lactase, which means they’re normal. Not less developed and evolved than other races as some radicals believe (I would like to stress this is not my view at all).
I’m normal and you’re lactase persistent!
The article suggests a change in terminology; we should describe those who cannot digest milk as normal, instead of lactase deficient, and those who can as ‘lactase persistent’. I got a bit lost in the middle of the article with arguments about mutations, evolution, natural selection and the speed of genetic change, but the general idea that milk drinking mutants had the advantage intrigued me. It doesn’t explain why anyone gets allergies but it’s a very interesting concept.
When and why did we start drinking milk as adults?
It went on to analyse historical references such as the Holy Bible. Apparently there is no reference to milk drinking before the flood, c. 4,500 years ago, but by the time of Abraham people were certainly consuming dairy as we have references in the bible to Israel ‘being a land flowing with milk and honey’. Adam and Eve, being genetically perfect, would not have drunk milk, and therefore not had the milk drinking mutation. They would have been perfectly normal, like me! Scientists can prove that years ago our ancestors did not drink milk as we do today, so what changed?
Dairy farming and poor water sources
The western nations began to intensively farm cattle in the last few hundred years and it’s since then that the mutation began in earnest. Cow’s milk would also have been a safer source of hydration when clean water was scarce. But who was the first human that decided to milk a cow and drink it?
Should human mammals drink cow’s milk?
You only have to google “should humans drink milk?” and you get hundreds of sites discussing this very subject, but from another angle. One with very strong views is the Milk Sucks website, where they proclaim that the whole milk industry is wrong, cruel to cows and dangerous to humans. Humans are the only species which drink another animals milk, unless you count cats and hedgehogs, but left to their own devices in the wild without our intervention they wouldn’t. Why do we do this? Human babies drink their mothers milk and there are fabulous benefits including boosting their immune systems and giving them the nutrients they need to thrive but as they grow up and are weaned their lactase production will naturally switch off, or it should
Human breast milk anyone?
Here’s a question for you. Would you, as an adult, ever consider drinking human milk? It’s a bit of a taboo subject and makes me think of Little Britain and the “Bitty” sketch. Anyone who has seen that will know it’s a cringe-making performance and is just completely out of the question for us squeamish humans, even if it were available pasteurised in a bottle.
Dairy substitutes are not always healthy either
The BBC aired a programme called “Britain’s Really Disgusing Food” where Alex Riley discovered the cheap nasty dairy substitutes and the unpalatable side of milk. He tried to sell the idea of breast milk for humans to one of the leading supermarkets and it was very funny, how the woman kept a straight face I don’t know. Dairy substitutes can be so low in the plant source e.g. almond, and most consisting of water, chalk, calcium carbonate to fortify and thickeners, sweeteners and fillers that they’re not great for us.
Dairy free calcium sources
Do we need to drink milk? There is an argument that adults don’t need to drink milk at all; calcium can be found in numerous other food stuffs such as spinach, broccoli, rhubarb, almonds, oily fish like sardines and mackerel, to name just a few. These other sources contain far less calories than milk too. I and countless others who have a dairy allergy live quite happily, if with a lot of preparation, without dairy. Could you?
Can avoiding dairy cause any health problems?
If you consider that you can get all the protein and calcium in milk elsewhere in other foods, what else could be dangerous? As someone who had severe eczema and abdominal pain from cow’s milk, I cut it out to improve my health. This worked, but now I’m not able to tolerate ANY milk, and this has grown into a full blown anaphylactic allergy in adulthood. I’m not sure how anyone could avoid this, if you have a dairy allergy you HAVE to avoid dairy altogether, however my allergy was mild in the beginning. Could I have avoided future anaphylaxis by consuming small quantities throughout my life?
You can find out more about lactose intolerance on the NHS website
I would love to hear what you think about this. Should we be drinking other animals milk? Are you normal or a mutant? Please share your thoughts on this subject. I’d love to hear what you all think.