Much to the chagrin of the world’s dairy industries, scientists keep publishing more and more evidence regarding the consequences of dairy consumption.
A 2014 study of Swedish men and women published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), revealed that daily dairy consumers had a significantly lower life expectancy than dairy avoiders. The same study also demonstrates that osteoporosis increases in areas with the highest dairy consumption guideline such as the UK, US, and Scandinavian countries. The BMJ was not alone in this finding either.
Other studies, including one done at Harvard, also indicated that cultures, such as the Japanese, who consume as little as 300 mg of plant-based calcium have the lowest rates of osteoporosis.
Aside from the whole bone concern, several studies also indicate a hormone in milk known as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), could promote damaged tissue growth or rogue cell proliferation which could likely lead to cancer.
If all that’s not gloomy enough, it’s been shown that dairy—cheese in particular— is addictive. One study that asked participants to rank dairy on the Yale Addiction Food Scale, went on to discuss that processed, salty or sugary foods like cheese engage the reward center of the brain. Whether it’s the casomorphin compounds or the high-fat nature of it, the idea of living without cheese seems to be a real issue for many people. While the possible benefits of consuming dairy are being debated, one thing has become abundantly clear: the reason to continue taking dairy, or not, should be an informed decision.
On that note, here are some facts about lactose intolerance which may help you decide.
The origins of lactose tolerance
Humans are adaptable. That’s how it came to be that some people can consume dairy products into adulthood while others cannot. According to Smithsonian magazine, lactose tolerance emerged roughly 5,000 years ago as people migrated to present day Northern Europe. Out of convenience or self-preservation, migratory herding societies consumed the milk of some domesticated animals. Subsequently, a genetic variation developed that resulted in the persistence of the lactase enzyme. This genetic variant was like a switch for the enzyme, which when left in the on position, allows the person to digest lactose in dairy. It’s a variant that is present mostly in Northern Europeans, with a very small percentage in other populations.
Milk’s composition includes a protein called casein, which is species-specific. It is required to promote growth in that species’ offspring and varies in amount between mammals. After a certain period of time though, the body switches the lactase enzyme off because it expects that we no longer consume milk to grow. This is why many people are actually lactose intolerant, particularly after childhood. This is unless you carry that gene variant which allows for lactase persistence.
Could you be lactose intolerant — without even knowing about it?
Unpleasant symptoms like brain fog, sinus congestion, acne, nausea, diarrhea and many others, are possible symptoms of lactose intolerance. Reactions can begin in as little as 30 minutes after milk or other dairy consumption and have been reported to last for hours. With such horrible symptoms, it’s no wonder one in ten people self-diagnose and choose to engage in a dairy avoidant diet. However, other serious ailments can be similar to lactose intolerance so getting a confirmed diagnosis is very helpful, and, while the news may not be what you want to hear, at least you’ll know whether you are genetically able to consume dairy or not.
DNA tests can help you identify if you are lactose intolerant
Traditionally, this intolerance was diagnosed with a procedure called a Breath Hydrogen Test which required about a three hour time commitment, dietary preparations up to two weeks beforehand and consumption of dairy on the day of the test. However, a newer and easier test in the form of a DNA saliva swab has been developed. The swab can test for the presence of the LCT gene, as well as other genes relevant to nutrition. The LCT gene dictates whether a person is lactose intolerant or whether the lactase enzyme has persisted.
Once you have the confirmed DNA result, there is no particular treatment for lactose intolerance other than avoiding milk and its related products.
The healthiest, safest and most comfortable way to manage is a diet with plant-based alternatives such as soy, hemp, rice, nut, or coconut milk. Some people use lactase in the form of over the counter supplement pills or lactose free dairy products which have the supplement already added in. However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the pills can have some side-effects similar to the symptoms commonly associated with lactose intolerance and that, since different dairy products have varying levels of lactose, the right dose is not always apparent. If you do decide to try the pills, just know that it’s a hit or miss scenario so make sure to do it while at home, just in case you experience the symptoms. In the end is dairy bad? Leave a comment below and share your experience with lactose products.
This guest post is written by Ireland-based Dr. Denise Karlyn Hee, a medical doctor practicing nutrigenomic medicine and certified integrative nutrition health coach.
If you’d like to find out more about this topic, which variant of the LCT gene you have or consult with Dr. Denise, feel free to message her via her RingMD profile (profile here). She can help set you up with a nutrigenomic kit that allows you to test for other genes as well which will enable you to better customise your diet to suit your body.
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