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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Are certain racial groups and ethnicities more affected by lactose intolerance?

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  • 1

    Agree

    Samantha Ling

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Samantha is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD), consultant and food and nutrition enthusiast. Samantha works in a private practice on the Central Coast, NSW, Rostant … View Profile

    Research around the world has indicated that lactose intolerance is rare in Caucasians. The condition is more common among Australian Aborigines and people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and some Mediterranean countries.

  • Melissa Adamski

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    I am an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and Accredited Nutritionist (AN) with a passion for food and good nutrition. I also have my own private … View Profile

    Adding to Samantha's information- primary lactose intolerance is predominantly developed in adulthood and is caused by genetics. It happens when some people (especially of Asian, African Australian Aboriginals and some middle eastern countries as Samantha mentioned) have a genetic variation in the MCM6 gene which controls the LCT gene- the LCT gene controls the production of lactase in the body.

    Caucasians usually have a variation in  their genes that tells the LCT gene to continue to produce lactase through adulthood, whereas many people of other backgrounds have genes which tell the LCT gene to stop producing lactase throughout adulthood- this is why lactose intolerance can get worse as people get older.

    For example current research suggests over 90% of people from an Asian background have a degree of lactose intolerance in adulthood.

  • 1

    Thanks

    Joy Anderson

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Joy is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist, as well as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has a special interest in … View Profile

    Just to add to these answers, having the gene for lactase turned off at natural weaning age (about 5 years of age) is actually normal for humans as a species, similar to what happens in all other mammals. It occurs in about 70% of the world's total population.

    The change seen in most Caucasians came about due to mutation, particularly one or more that occurred in Northern Europe many generations ago. So in countries where the major ancestry is from this part of the world (ie North America, Australia, New Zealand, etc), most people have ‘lactase persistence’. However, with our more modern multicultural society in Western countries now, this is becoming less widespread.

    So adult-onset lactose intolerance is the normal human condition. Those of us who can eat dairy products as adults are the ‘odd ones’ if you think of it like this. You also see this reflected in the cuisines of different countries. In Asian cuisines, for example, there is no dairy.

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