Lactose intolerance, almost a norm

Lactose intolerance, almost a norm

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar in milk. To digest it well, you need an enzyme called Lactase, which mammals have at birth. In all land mammals, lactase production ceases almost completely after weaning.

In the case of humans, this enzyme decreases on average from 90% to 95% in early infancy.1. However, some ethnic groups continue to produce lactase into adulthood. We say of those who have no more that they are lactose intolerant : When drinking milk, they suffer from varying degrees of bloating, gas, gas and cramps.

Depending on the ethnic group, the prevalence of intolerance ranges from 2% to 15% among North Europeans, up to nearly 100% among Asians. Faced with this strong variation, researchers are still wondering if the absence of lactase after weaning constitutes the “normal” state and if its persistence among European peoples would be an “abnormal” mutation resulting from natural selection.1.



Who is lactose intolerant1?


  • North Europeans: 2% to 15%
  • White Americans: 6% to 22%
  • Central Europeans: 9% to 23%
  • North Indians: 20% to 30%
  • South Indians: 60% to 70%
  • Latin Americans: 50% to 80%
  • Ashkenazi Jews: 60% to 80%
  • Blacks: 60% to 80%
  • Native Americans: 80% to 100%
  • Asians: 95% to 100%


What to do in case of lactose intolerance?

Many alternative medicine professionals believe that people who are lactose intolerant should respect their particular condition and reduce or even stop their consumption of dairy products rather than attempting to alleviate it through various measures.

Other specialists believe rather that lactose intolerance should not prevent enjoying the benefits of dairy products, including its intake of calcium. Often people with intolerance will digest milk well if they take small amounts at a time or drink it with other foods. Also, yogurt and cheese suit them better.

In addition, studies2-4 have shown that a gradual introduction of milk can reduce lactose intolerance and lead to a 50% reduction in the frequency and severity of symptoms. Finally, commercial lactase preparations (eg Lactaid) can help relieve symptoms.

Drinking milk, is it natural?

We often hear that drinking cow’s milk is not “natural” since no animal drinks the milk of another animal species. It is also said that humans are the only mammal that still drinks milk in adulthood. At Dairy Farmers of Canada5, we retort that, according to the same logic, growing vegetables, wearing clothes or eating tofu would not be more “natural”, and that we are also the only species to sow, harvest and grind wheat … Finally, they remind us that since prehistoric times, humans have consumed the milk of cows, camels and sheep.

“If, genetically, humans are not programmed to drink milk in adulthood, they are not necessarily programmed to drink soy milk either. The only reason cow’s milk is the number one cause of allergies in children is that the majority of them drink it. If 90% of children drank soy-based milk, soy would perhaps be the number one cause of allergies, ”argued at Duty6, Dr Ernest Seidman, head of the gastroenterology service at Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal.


Milk allergy



Lactose intolerance should not be confused with milk protein allergy which affects 1% of the adult population and 3% of children7. It is more serious and causes symptoms which can involve the digestive system (abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea), the respiratory tract (nasal congestion, cough, sneezing), the skin (hives, eczema, “swollen patches”), and possibly cause colic, ear infections, migraines and behavioral problems.



Adults with allergies should generally abstain from dairy products altogether. In young children, it often happens that the allergy is transient, by the time the immune system matures, around the age of three. After consulting a doctor, attempts can be made to reintroduce milk every six months to check if the allergy is still present.


Different points of view

 Helene Baribeau, nutritionist


“When people come to me for ailments like irritable bowel syndrome, I often recommend cutting off the lactose for a month, so they can restore their intestinal flora. To those affected with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, for example, I suggest removing dairy products for a few weeks. We then assess the improvement, then we try to reintegrate them gradually. It is very rare that they have to be removed for life, because many people tolerate them really well. “


 Stephanie Ogura, naturopath, member of the board of directors of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors


“In general, I would recommend that people with lactose intolerance avoid dairy products and get their calcium and vitamin D in other ways, if they can. As far as allergies go, cow’s milk does. part of the five foods that are most often responsible for so-called delayed allergies.

Unlike the symptoms of a peanut allergy, for example, which start on ingestion, those of milk can occur half an hour to three days later. They range from ear infections and gastrointestinal complaints, migraines and rashes. In such a case, I suggest eliminating the milk and then reintroducing it gradually to see if it is the cause. ELISA-type blood tests (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) can also be helpful in identifying other potential food allergies. “


Isabelle Neiderer, nutritionist, spokesperson for Dairy Farmers of Canada


“Some people do not have the lactase to digest milk and it is sometimes claimed that this is a sign that they should not. It’s important to note that humans also lack the enzymes necessary to digest the complex sugars found in many legumes and some vegetables. Their ingestion then causes various discomfort; we also suggest gradual adaptation periods for people who introduce more legumes or fibers in their diet. But this is not considered a sign to stop consuming it! The same should be true for milk. In addition, the majority of intolerant people are able to digest a certain amount of lactose, but have difficulty consuming a large amount at once. Everyone must identify their individual tolerance threshold. Some intolerant people can, for example, consume a whole cup of milk without any problem, if taken with a meal. “


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