Why Did I Become Lactose Intolerant?
Did you know that all mammals in the animal kingdom become lactose intolerant after infancy? You cat, dog, the friendly dolphin you met in Bali… all of them will experience digestive problems if you give them milk.
Being lactose intolerance is actually nature’s “default” settings for most humans and is not classified as a disease or disorder.
Milk is produced by mammals to nourish their young and is rarely encountered in adulthood in the wild. Because you don’t need it anymore, the body naturally ramps down its production of lactase enzyme to break down lactose, the sugar that is found only in milk. This is part of our natural genetic programming.
To some extent, our ability to digest dairy is also a use it or lose it kind of situation. As long as you consume some lactose in your diet, it will signal to your cells that you still need the lactase enzyme it is producing. If you don’t consume dairy for a while, your body will gradually reduce its production of lactase. Unfortunately, this reduced ability to digest dairy is permanent and does not come back, no matter what your uncle who “trained his body to drink milk again” told you.
People descended from certain ethnic groups from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East have developed mutations that allow them to retain their lactase producing ability longer than the genetic “default”. This is known as lactase persistence. Chinese, Korean, Japanese and other people of East Asian descent traditionally consumed very little dairy until recent modern times, and never developed this mutation.
There are also certain cases of secondary lactose intolerance, caused by bacterial infection, inflammation, or mechanical injury to the intestinal walls. These cases are usually temporary and lactase enzyme production resumes in most cases once the underlying problem has been treated.
If you are still able to handle some dairy, you can try to have a little yoghurt everyday to maintain your ability to digest lactose. If not, welcome to the club and enjoy the perk of having something relatable to commiserate about with 80% of the world’s population! Just carry some Milk Medic with you so you can continue enjoying your favorite cake, cheese, bubble tea, or latte!
*milk in the form that we commonly refer to