We have all heard about lactose intolerance but do we know how many people suffer from it. More than we may think!
It has been found that up to 65 percent of people in the world are unable to digest lactose, with that number rising to 90 percent within certain ethnic groups. According to data, approximately 79 percent of Native Americans, 75 percent of African Americans and more than 50 percent of Hispanics are lactose intolerant whereas Asians are the highest with 90 percent.
What it is
Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk and milk products. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the milk sugar due to the absence of the enzyme, lactase, leading to bloating, cramps, flatulence and diarrhea.
When lactase is low or deficient, instead of the normal digestion, milk gets partially digested by bacteria in the intestines causing fermentation, excessive gas and gastrointestinal pain. The undigested lactose that is sent along the intestinal tract causes diarrhoea and discomfort.
Why does it happen
Due to the deficiency of lactase enzymes in the in the lining of the small intestine that change milk sugar into glucose and galactose which can then be absorbed into the bloodstream. Almost all infants have the enzyme lactase but lose it once they are weaned from their mothers milk.
In 1988, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that absence of this enzyme is in fact the genetic norm, and that lactase activity was sustained only in those adults whose origins were in Northern European or some Mediterranean populations. In other words, Caucasians can tolerate milk sugar only because of an inherited genetic mutation.
The fact that very few people can fully digest dairy has resulted in an important change in terminology. Those who could not digest milk were once called lactose intolerant or lactase deficient. They are now regarded as normal, while those adults who retain the enzymes allowing them to digest milk are called lactase persistent.
Even commercial milk products that are lactose free or lactase pills don’t solve the problem, as individuals can still experience digestive symptoms. The good news is that we do not need to drink milk at all as plants are more absorbable sources of all nutrients including calcium and protein.