First, what is lactose intolerance? Simply put, it is the inability to digest the lactose which is present in most dairy products. Lactose intolerance can be very unpleasant, and symptoms may include abdominal pain and swelling, flatulence, diarrhoea, and other symptoms. This is a relatively common disorder affecting about 65% of the global population, although this differs among communities. Rates are higher in some Asian and African countries, with up to 100% of individuals affected, while the rate is lower in some European countries (Storhaug, 2017). Lactose intolerance is different to dairy allergy, which involves the immune system and can be life-threatening and involves a medical diagnosis via an allergy test.
The cause of lactose intolerance is generally an inefficient activity of an enzyme called lactase. Lactase is the enzyme that digests the lactose present in milk and other dairy products, and the gene responsible for lactase production is termed LCT (Mattar, 2012). For that reason, the LCT gene is sometimes called the lactose intolerance gene, although in fact everyone has a copy of this gene. People who can digest lactose as an adult have a regular functioning LCT gene, and so “normal” lactase activity. However most people suffering from lactose intolerance have a genetic variant (small difference) in the LCT gene, which reduces lactase activity and so causes lactose intolerance and associated discomfort.
Fun fact! Kittens, like many young mammals, produce lactase and can drink milk in early life and can generally tolerate even cow’s milk. As they are weaned, they stop producing the lactase and so become lactose intolerant. Fortunately, most humans that can tolerate milk can do so most of their life, although there are instances of adult-onset lactose intolerance.
If you want to know if you might be lactose intolerant or are worried about your risk of developing lactose intolerance in the future, a DNA test could help with the answer. The Fitgenes FoodChoice genetic profile includes the lactose intolerance gene LCT (as well as others related to coeliac disease / gluten, salt, alcohol, caffeine, histamines as well as predisposition to food allergies).
If that’s of interest and is right for you, reach out via our contact page and ask for the special rate and we’ll send you a voucher for $30 off an online FoodChoice report for reading all the way to the bottom!