Are We Really That Lactose Intolerant?

It’s in many of the foods that are closely connected to our family traditions. After all, what would Christmas be without Mama’s baked macaroni and cheese? Would Thanksgiving really be the same if you didn’t have your favorite aunt’s sweet potato pie? Well, it turns out, these holidays could be much more enjoyable for you if you experience stomach pain, fatigue, or even a slight skin rash after eating the foods you love so much.

For years we’ve heard that Black people can’t properly digest milk products, since most of us are lactose intolerant; that is, we lack the enzyme needed to process the sugar in milk. And, the folks at Lactaid have (smartly) included Black actors in their television commercials for lactose-free milk. But is it time for us to be completely non-dairy? Or, is it just too difficult to forego the foods that make family dinners worth looking forward to?

First, it’s important to explore the debate concerning whether any human adults should be consuming dairy products. Medline Plus reports that babies who are born after a full-term pregnancy usually don’t show signs of lactose intolerance until they are three years of age. Premature babies can sometimes display lactose intolerance at birth. African-American toddlers are, on average, unable to digest milk by the time they are two years old; Caucasian children may not display these symptoms until the age of five. So, regardless of ethnic background, most people lose the ability to eat and drink milk products comfortably while they are still children. Which means by the time you reach your 20s or 30s, you may have done some serious damage to your body by continuing to consume dairy.

Related: Carbs: Diet Staple or Food Addiction?

Some health professionals would also argue that many Black people aren’t able to eat dairy because of blood type. The majority of people of African descent are blood type O—individuals with this blood type should consume high-protein foods like red meat and fatty fish, very little grains, and no dairy, according to Dr. Peter D’Adamo in his book, Eat Right 4 Your Type. And according to the National Institute of Health, over 75 percent of African Americans in the U.S. can’t tolerate lactose. So, it’s very likely that you could be included in that percentage.

But why is this seemingly unfair health plague so prevalent in the Black community? Perhaps it’s because the type of animals that produce milk fit for human consumption were not traditionally herded in Africa. Due to the extreme heat on the continent, cattle were not able to properly thrive there. Also, there were several bacterial disease that infected and killed cattle in Africa before 1900, meaning that milk was not a part of the diet for several generations. Overall, our stomachs have not become genetically accustomed to digesting milk. And it may be time to accept that. It may also be time to come to terms with the fact that since most of us are of mixed heritage, the percentage of the Black population that are biracial or of partial European ancestry may have an easier time eating dairy products.

Aside from the gas and bloating that drinking milk or eating dairy products can cause, there are also several serious symptoms that you can experience when you continue to drink milkshakes with your burgers, or have a cup or yogurt with your morning fruit. Lactose intolerance could be the reason for your migraine headaches, or for the extreme cramps and mood swings you experience during your menstrual cycle. Nausea is also common for people who can’t tolerate milk, and some women with severe lactose intolerance have even reported developing fibroid tumors, due to the hormones found in milk. You may find that your complexion is clearer after eliminating dairy from your diet, since lactose intolerance has been linked to acne and can cause skin inflammation.

So, there you have it. Yes, it’s daunting news, and your family meal won’t be the same without the creamy mashed potatoes or sweet banana pudding you’ve come to know and love. But you may find that your headaches become a thing of the past and your mood swings are non-existent.

If giving up the milk cold turkey is just too painful, try organic dairy products that are free of preservatives and pesticides. The absence of harmful chemicals may aid in dairy digestion as well. And, there are several dairy-free alternatives like soy or coconut yogurt and vegan versions of cheese that you can start incorporating into your recipes for a healthier and happier you.


Tamiya King is a fashion blogger and alternative health writer. She possess an English degree and has been writing professionally for over a decade. King is also a professional image consultant, and is studying to become a certified health coach to learn new and exciting ways to help women look and feel their best. You can reach her on Twitter (@tamiyafking).

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