The lactase gene

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This topic contains 7 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  anonymous 4 years ago.

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  • #15617


    I have a question and didn't know where else to put it… boyfriend and I were watching Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole –  the name of the episode was, provocatively, Is tThere A Super Race? and they started talking about the genetic mutation allowing some ethnicities, mainly northern Europeans, to be able to drink milk into adulthood. Jamie said in the Dark Age beverages episode that milk was not actually a common beverage, either implying or stating (it's been a bit since I listened) that milk was more commonly made into butter and cheese. So my question is: who was drinking milk and where/when? If people in the Dark Ages were staying away from drinking milk it makes sense that earlier peoples would probably have done the same, which opens the question of how we adapted in the first place.

  • #18324


    This is a good (and recent) summary of what we know and don't know about this:

  • #18325


    Well don't forget that milk, especially cows milk, in the Dark Ages was nowhere near as safe to drinkThe Centre for Disease Control has a nice summary of the dangers of drinking raw milk (lots!)'t forget that it wasn't just failing to pasteurise the milk that was a problem, there was also a serious issue about maintaining it at a suitable temperature. Goats milk would be much safer but limited to the area's where goats were kept during the various periods pre-refrigeration era. (See Jared Diamond Guns, Germs and Steel).

  • #18326


    Excellent points, Chris!  Though you failed to include my favorite danger of drinking opaque liquids."Some Creeping Thing"But yeah, milk was dodgey.  Most everything was.  The number of toxic ingredients included within the beef recipe I did last year was staggering.  They were hardy people.

  • #18327


    I was just listening to the History of English podcast episode that talked about the proto-IndoEuropeans, and he mentioned that the arrival of the lactase mutation in that population sometime around 3-4000BC was a large part (the other important piece was the domestication of horses) of what enabled them to dominate the central European steppes, which therefore gave their language the head start it needed to eventually become the forerunner of most European languages today.  He said that the lactase mutation also occurred independently (i.e. it's a different mutation but w/ the same result) in two other pastoral populations, among the Tuareg in Africa and among the camel-herding Arabs, and in all cases it allowed those populations to successfully expand and dominate their neighbors.

  • #18328


    My grandfather once told me, that when he was a kid it was considered a nice treat to get to drink a big jug of milk straight from the cow, when it was still a bit warm. But of course, it probably wasnt something people did often. This would have been around 1940 or so.

  • #18329


    When I was a child, we would visit my aunt who lived on a dairy farm.  She always used untreated milk, literally fresh from the cow (within the hour).  She assured us that it gave us added immunity.  That was the 1970's.  I'm not sure I would do it now.

  • #18330


    I was watching a programme once about the causes food intolerances. It was really interesting, apparently when we are babies we produce an enzyme which naturally breaks down lactase but this enzyme tends to disappear around the age of 18months – 2yrs (which makes sense as this is when we have a high volume of milk in our diet) When the indo-europeans started to drink milk in later childhood and adulthood then they started over time to produce the enzyme after the age of 2yrs so they could tolerate and break down the lactase. This was in contrast to the african population of the time who did not have a culture of drinking milk after 2yrs old and therefore did not produce the enzyme in later childhood or adulthood. Because of this, people with african descent have a higher rate of lactose intolerance.Its also the same with the tolerance for alcohol, to make water safe you can either ferment it or boil it. In europe the fermentation method was more prevelant (beer etc) and in asia they boiled it (tea). As alcohol is a poison in europe the body had to find a way of processing these high volumes of alcohol and we developed a high tolerance, but in asia as they didnt consume a lot of alcohol then their bodies didnt develop this higher tolerance. That is why if you are of asian extraction you are more likely to have a very low tolerance of alcohol, this also includes native americans as they originally came from asia

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