How We Digest Dairy Products Can Give Us Clues To Our Ancestral Origins

man drinking a glass of milk
Via Pexels
Adé Hennis
January 10, 2024

Approximately 80 percent of Black Americans are lactose intolerant, and while many of us have experienced the outcomes of going against our intolerance, we will still continue to consume dairy. But what about that other 20 percent that aren’t lactose intolerant?

Lactase persistence, the ability to digest the lactose in milk as an adult, is a rare trait in Americans in general. But thousands of years ago, research shows that this trait appeared more frequently in a certain area of Africa.

The evolution of lactase persistence is strong in East Africa, largely due to the reliance on herding and foraging. East African foragers played a pivotal role in the evolution of global socioeconomic and political systems. And with their herding and foraging talents, milk was one food source the people relied on.

Many current East African natives show high signs of lactase persistence, but because of colonialism, it’s possible that the Black people who had their ancestors taken away during the slave trade weren’t able to benefit from the evolution of this advantageous gene.

The ability to drink milk as an adult may link back to East Africans being able to rely on natural resources. But the bigger picture is that our intolerance might be a direct result of colonization. No matter what mainstream media say, colonization continues to impact us today, even in the smallest ways.

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