DrOmics Labs


Lactase Persistence: Why Some Can Digest Dairy and Others Can’t

Have you ever wondered why some people can enjoy a tall glass of milk or a slice of cheese without any issues, while others experience discomfort or digestive problems after consuming dairy products? The answer lies in a fascinating biological phenomenon called lactase persistence. In this article, we will explore what lactase persistence is and why some people have it while others do not.

Understanding Lactase and Lactose Intolerance

To understand lactase persistence, we must first understand lactase. Lactase is an enzyme that is produced in the small intestine, specifically the lining of the villi. Its primary function is to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products, into its simpler forms, glucose and galactose. These simpler sugars can then be easily absorbed into the bloodstream and used for energy.

Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, occurs when the body does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase, or the lactase produced is not efficiently working. This leads to an inability to break down lactose, causing digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.

Lactase Persistence: A Genetic Mutation

Lactase persistence is the ability to continue producing lactase, even into adulthood. Most mammals naturally decrease the production of lactase after weaning, as they no longer require milk as a source of nutrition. However, in some human populations, a genetic mutation occurred thousands of years ago, allowing individuals to maintain the production of lactase throughout their lives.

This genetic mutation is commonly known as the lactase persistence gene or the LCT gene. People who carry this mutation can continue to produce lactase and easily digest lactose well into adulthood. This genetic adaptation is most commonly found in populations that have historically practiced animal husbandry, such as those of European, African, and Middle Eastern descent.

Evolutionary Advantage of Lactase Persistence

The evolutionary advantage of lactase persistence is closely linked to the domestication of animals for their milk. Historically, humans relied heavily on animal milk as a source of nutrition, especially in regions where other food sources were scarce. The ability to digest milk allowed these populations to gain a significant advantage by supplementing their diet with an additional source of nutrients.

Over time, individuals with lactase persistence had higher survival rates and reproductive success, passing on the genetic mutation to future generations. This selective advantage led to a higher prevalence of lactase persistence in populations that practiced animal husbandry.

Lactase Persistence around the World

Lactase persistence is not evenly distributed across the globe. As mentioned earlier, populations from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East have a higher prevalence of lactase persistence due to their historical reliance on animal milk. In contrast, populations from East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Native Americans have a lower prevalence of lactase persistence.

This variation in lactase persistence rates can be explained by the different historical practices of animal husbandry and dairy consumption in these regions. It is essential to note that lactase persistence is not an all-or-nothing trait but exists on a spectrum. Some individuals may have partial lactase persistence, allowing them to tolerate small amounts of lactose without discomfort.


Lactase persistence is a fascinating example of a genetic adaptation that allows some individuals to continue producing the lactase enzyme well into adulthood. This ability to digest lactose offers significant evolutionary advantages in populations that relied heavily on animal milk as a food source. While lactase persistence is more prevalent in certain populations, lactose intolerance is a common condition globally. Understanding the genetic and evolutionary factors behind lactase persistence can help shed light on the complex relationship between humans and dairy consumption.

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