Lactose Intolerance by Ethnicity and Region


Lactose intolerance percentages in the table below were taken directly from the sources referenced. The fact that some percentages are exact and others are provided as a range is the result of the research methodologies used by the authors of the respective studies. Please note that the data below references lactose intolerance only and not milk allergy. For information on the differences between Lactose Intolerance and Milk Allergy please click here.

Ethnicity /
Geographic Region
% With Lactose Intolerance
1. East Asian 90-100%1
2. Indigenous (North America) 80-100%3
3. Central Asian 80%1
4. African American (North America) 75%2
5. African (Africa) 70-90%1
6. Indian (Southern India) 70%1
7. French (Southern France) 65%1
8. Ashkenazi Jew (North America) 60-80%3
9. Balkans Region 55%1

Ethnicity /
Geographic Region
% With Lactose Intolerance
10. Latino/Hispanic (North America) 51%2
11. Indian (Northern India) 30%1
12. Anglo (North America) 21%2
13. Italian (Italy) 20-70%1
14. French (Northern France) 17%1
15. Finnish (Finland) 17%1
16. Austrian (Austria) 15-20%1
17. German (Germany) 15%1
18. British (U.K.) 5-15%1
"An estimated 65% of human adults (and most adult mammals) downregulate [decrease] the production of intestinal lactase after weaning. Lactase is necessary for the digestion of lactose, the main carbohydrate in milk, and without it, milk consumption can lead to bloating, flatulence, cramps and nausea. Continued production of lactase throughout adult life (lactase persistence, LP) is a genetically determined trait and is found at moderate to high frequencies in Europeans and some African, Middle Eastern and Southern Asian populations."

"In humans, as in all other mammals, the ability to digest lactose (the sugar in milk) is lost during childhood. The gene that makes lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) shuts off after a few years of service, because mammals don't drink milk after they are weaned. But those first cattle keepers, in northern Europe and in a few parts of Africa, had a vast new supply of fresh milk, which could be given to their children but not to adults. Any individual whose mutated genes delayed the shutdown of lactase production had an advantage. Over time, such people left more milk-drinking descendants than did their lactose-intolerant cousins. (The gene itself has been identified.) Genetic changes then drove cultural innovations as well: groups with the new lactase gene then kept even larger herds, and found more ways to use and process milk, such as turning it into cheese. These cultural innovations then drove further genetic changes, and on and on it went."
Jonathan Haidt, PhD The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, 2012


Sources:
  1. Michael de Vrese, MD "Probiotics: Compensation for Lactase Insufficiency," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb. 2001

  2. Nevin S. Scrimshaw, MD "The Acceptability of Milk and Milk Products in Populations with a High Prevalence of Lactose Intolerance," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Oct. 1988

  3. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development "Lactose Intolerance: Information for Health Care Providers," NIH Publication No. 05-5303B, Jan. 2006


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