Milking the Truth: Is Lactose Intolerance in Your Genes?

DNA Testing
Gut Health
Milking the Truth: Is Lactose Intolerance in Your Genes?

Lactose Intolerance 101


  1. Introduction
  2. The Genetics of Lactose Intolerance
  3. Lactose intolerance Myths & Truths
  4. Dairy Alternatives
  5. Lactose Intolerance in Children
  6. FAQ
  7. Conclusion

In 30 seconds... Lactose intolerance, a condition where the body lacks the enzyme lactase to properly digest lactose, can be influenced by genetic factors. The LCT and MCM6 genes play a key role in lactase production. Certain genetic variations, like the -13910T SNP, can affect lactase production and increase or decrease the likelihood of lactose intolerance. There are three types of lactose deficiency: primary, secondary, and congenital. Lactose intolerance varies across populations, with some groups more affected than others. It's important to differentiate lactose intolerance from milk allergy, as they have different causes. Contrary to popular belief, lactose intolerant individuals can still consume small amounts of dairy and use lactase supplements. The fat content in milk and fermented dairy products can affect lactose intolerance symptoms. Aged cheeses and lactose-free alternatives like almond milk, coconut yogurt, vegan cheese, soy milk, and oat milk are options. Lactase supplements and digestive aids can also help manage symptoms. Parents of lactose intolerant children should consult with a pediatrician for proper evaluation, provide balanced nutrition, and educate their child about managing their condition. Collaborating with healthcare professionals is crucial. Frequently asked questions about lactose intolerance are addressed, and individuals are encouraged to explore their genetic predisposition through DNA testing.


Picture this: you're at your favorite ice cream parlor, eyes wide as you marvel at the colorful array of flavors. But as you take a bite of your triple scoop sundae, you suddenly remember the all-too-familiar stomach cramps and bloating that await you. You, my friend, may be lactose intolerant. But what if I told you that lactose intolerance might be lurking in your DNA, just waiting to ruin your love affair with dairy?

Unraveling the Genetics of Lactose Intolerance

First things first, let's dive into the genetic details behind lactose intolerance. You see, it all comes down to two main genes: LCT and MCM6. When you're a baby, your LCT gene churns out lactase, an enzyme that helps break down lactose, the sugar found in milk.

As you grow older, however, the activity of the LCT gene can be influenced by the MCM6 gene, located nearby. The MCM6 gene contains regulatory elements that can either promote or suppress lactase production, depending on specific genetic variations within the MCM6 gene itself. These variations, or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), dictate how your body produces lactase throughout your life.

One common SNP, known as -13910T, is associated with higher lactase production and a lower likelihood of developing lactose intolerance. In contrast, individuals who carry the -13910C variation typically have reduced lactase production, leading to lactose intolerance. It's important to note that multiple SNPs within the MCM6 gene may influence lactase production, and the -13910 SNP is just one example.

A Trilogy of Troublesome Types

Before we dive into the genetics of lactose intolerance, let's first understand what lactose is and the role it plays in our body. Lactose is a natural sugar found in dairy products, made up of two smaller sugar molecules called glucose and galactose. In order for our bodies to properly digest lactose, an enzyme called lactase is required to break down lactose into its simpler components, glucose and galactose, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.

Lactose deficiency, also known as lactase deficiency or hypolactasia, occurs when your body doesn't produce enough lactase to break down lactose properly. As a result, undigested lactose passes into the large intestine, where it is fermented by bacteria. This fermentation process can lead to the production of gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other unpleasant symptoms commonly associated with lactose intolerance.

There are three main types of lactose deficiency:

  1. Primary lactase deficiency: This is the most common form and occurs when lactase production naturally declines as you age. It is primarily influenced by genetic factors, with certain genetic variations being more prevalent in specific populations.
  2. Secondary lactase deficiency: This occurs due to damage or illness affecting the small intestine, such as celiac disease, Crohn's disease, or gastroenteritis. This form of lactose deficiency is often temporary and can improve once the underlying condition is treated.
  3. Congenital lactase deficiency: This rare genetic disorder is present from birth and is characterized by the complete absence of lactase production. Infants with this condition cannot digest lactose in their mother's milk or any other source of lactose.

So, when we talk about lactose intolerance, we are actually referring to the symptoms that arise from lactose deficiency, which is caused by the body's inability to produce sufficient lactase to digest lactose properly. And, as we've already discussed, genetic factors can play a significant role in determining whether or not you're lactose intolerant, making it essential to understand your genetic predisposition to this condition.

Ancestry and Lactose Intolerance: A Tale of Genetic Roulette

Like a game of genetic roulette, lactose intolerance varies across populations, with some groups more likely to be affected than others. For example, up to 90% of East Asian populations are lactose intolerant, while only about 5% of Northern Europeans experience the same fate. So, if you've got a European passport, you might just have won the genetic lottery when it comes to lactose tolerance.

Lactose Intolerance vs. Milk Allergy: A Dairy Duel

Now, before you go tossing out your cheese collection, it's essential to understand the difference between lactose intolerance and milk allergy. While lactose intolerance stems from a lack of lactase, a milk allergy is an immune system response to proteins found in milk. So, if you're experiencing hives, wheezing, or even anaphylaxis after sipping on a milkshake, you might be dealing with a milk allergy rather than lactose intolerance. It's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms and tailor an appropriate treatment plan.

Busting Lactose Intolerance Myths: The Dairy Truths Revealed

Moderation is Key

For some individuals with lactose intolerance, consuming smaller portions of dairy products can help minimize or even prevent symptoms. This is because their bodies may still produce a small amount of lactase enzyme, just not enough to handle large quantities of lactose. By limiting portion sizes and spreading out dairy consumption throughout the day, they can still enjoy dairy without the distress.

Skimmed vs. Whole Milk: The Lactose Factor

Interestingly, the fat content of milk may also play a role in lactose intolerance symptoms. Whole milk contains more fat than semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, which can slow down the rate at which lactose is released into the digestive system. This may allow for better lactase enzyme function, reducing the severity of lactose intolerance symptoms. On the other hand, semi-skimmed and skimmed milk have lower fat content, which can result in a faster release of lactose into the digestive system, potentially exacerbating symptoms for some individuals.

Fermented Dairy Products: A Friendlier Option

Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, often contain lower levels of lactose due to the fermentation process. The live bacteria present in these products help break down lactose, making them more tolerable for those with lactose intolerance. Additionally, these fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which can support gut health and overall digestion.

Aged Cheese: Low-Lactose Indulgence

Aged cheeses, like cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan, are naturally lower in lactose content. The aging process allows more lactose to be broken down, leaving less to cause digestive issues. For many people with lactose intolerance, these cheeses can be enjoyed without causing discomfort.

Lactase Supplements: Dairy Support

As previously mentioned, lactase supplements can be a game-changer for those with lactose intolerance. By providing additional lactase enzymes, these supplements help break down lactose in the digestive system, preventing or reducing symptoms. Taking a lactase supplement before consuming dairy products can enable many lactose intolerant individuals to continue enjoying their favorite dairy treats without the unpleasant side effects.

In conclusion, lactose intolerance doesn't have to mean a complete dairy ban. By understanding the nuances of lactose intolerance, such as the role of fat content in milk, the benefits of fermented dairy products, and the availability of lactase supplements, you can make informed choices about your diet and enjoy dairy in moderation without sacrificing your well-being.

Coping with Dairy Drama: Alternative Food Options

If you're looking for lactose-free alternatives, you're in luck. The world of dairy-free products has exploded in recent years, with options like almond milk, coconut yogurt, and vegan cheese becoming widely available. Not only are these alternatives lactose-free, but they're also packed with nutrients that'll keep your body happy and healthy.

Nutritious Non-Dairy Choices

Here are some popular lactose-free alternatives and their nutritional benefits:

  1. Almond milk: Almond milk is a fantastic option for those avoiding lactose. It is naturally low in calories, contains healthy fats, and is often fortified with vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin E. With a mild nutty flavor, it can easily replace cow's milk in your morning cereal, coffee, or smoothies.
  2. Coconut yogurt: This creamy, tangy alternative to traditional yogurt is made from the milk of coconuts. It's a great source of healthy fats, particularly medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which have been linked to various health benefits, including improved brain function and weight management. Coconut yogurt can be enjoyed on its own, topped with fruit and granola, or incorporated into recipes as a dairy-free alternative.
  3. Vegan cheese: Made from a variety of plant-based ingredients, such as nuts, seeds, or soy, vegan cheese can be a delicious lactose-free alternative to dairy cheese. Many vegan cheeses are also fortified with essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin B12. With a wide range of flavors and textures, you're sure to find a vegan cheese that suits your taste buds.
  4. Soy milk: Soy milk is a protein-rich, lactose-free milk alternative made from whole soybeans or soy protein isolate. It contains all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source. Soy milk is also a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, calcium, and potassium, and it is often fortified with additional nutrients.
  5. Oat milk: Oat milk is a creamy and mildly sweet plant-based milk alternative that is naturally lactose-free. It is high in fiber, particularly beta-glucan, which has been linked to improved heart health and better blood sugar control. Oat milk can be used in a variety of ways, such as in coffee, smoothies, or baking.

Lactase Supplements and Digestive Aids

In addition to seeking lactose-free alternatives, you can also use lactase supplements to help manage lactose intolerance. These supplements contain the lactase enzyme, which helps break down lactose in your digestive system, reducing or preventing symptoms. Lactase supplements are available in various forms, such as chewable tablets or capsules, and can be taken before consuming lactose-containing foods.

Digestive aids, like probiotics and prebiotics, can also be beneficial for those with lactose intolerance. Probiotics are live microorganisms that promote a healthy gut environment, while prebiotics serve as food for these beneficial bacteria. Both can help improve overall digestion and may alleviate some lactose intolerance symptoms.

By incorporating lactose-free alternatives, supplements, and digestive aids into your diet, you can effectively tackle lactose intolerance and enjoy a wide variety of delicious and nutritious foods without the discomfort of dairy-induced symptoms.

Managing Lactose Intolerance in children

For parents of lactose intolerant children, navigating the world of dairy can be a daunting task. Keep an eye out for symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and irritability, and consult with a pediatrician if you suspect your child may be lactose intolerant. It's essential to maintain a balanced diet, so work closely with a healthcare professional to ensure your little one gets all the nutrients they need.

Identifying Symptoms Early

Lactose intolerance can manifest in infants and young children, making it crucial for parents to recognize the signs early on. Common symptoms include gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea after consuming dairy products. If your child displays these symptoms, it's important to consult with a pediatrician for proper evaluation and guidance.

When managing lactose intolerance in children, it's vital to ensure they receive adequate nutrition for growth and development. If dairy products are restricted or eliminated from their diet, other sources of calcium, vitamin D, and protein must be included. Some non-dairy sources of these essential nutrients include:

  • Calcium: dark leafy greens, fortified orange juice, almonds, and tofu
  • Vitamin D: sunlight exposure, fatty fish, mushrooms, and fortified plant-based milk
  • Protein: lean meats, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds

Dairy Alternatives for Kids

Fortunately, there are numerous dairy-free alternatives available that are both kid-friendly and nutritionally sound. Plant-based milk (e.g., almond, soy, and oat) and dairy-free yogurt, cheese, and ice cream can help ensure your child doesn't miss out on their favorite treats. Additionally, many products are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, further supporting their nutritional needs.

Educating and Empowering Your Child

As your child grows older, it's essential to teach them about their lactose intolerance and how to manage it. Educate them on reading food labels, identifying high-lactose ingredients, and making informed food choices. Empower them to communicate their dietary needs to friends, teachers, and caregivers, ensuring they can maintain a lactose-free diet even when you're not around.

Collaborating with Healthcare Professionals

A team approach is crucial when managing lactose intolerance in children. Work closely with pediatricians, registered dietitians, and other healthcare professionals to develop a personalized nutrition plan for your child. Regular follow-ups and monitoring can help ensure your little one's nutritional needs are being met and their growth and development remain on track.

In summary, managing lactose intolerance in children requires vigilance, education, and collaboration. By identifying symptoms early, providing balanced nutrition, and working closely with healthcare professionals, you can support your child's health and well-being, ensuring they thrive despite their dairy sensitivity.

Frequently Asked Questions: Your Dairy Dilemmas Answered

We've compiled a list of frequently asked questions to help you navigate your lactose intolerance journey:

  1. Can lactose intolerance develop later in life? Absolutely! In fact, primary lactose intolerance typically develops in adulthood, as lactase production decreases over time.
  2. How long does it take for lactose intolerance symptoms to appear? Symptoms can appear as quickly as 30 minutes or take up to 2 hours after consuming lactose.
  3. Can you suddenly become lactose intolerant? It's possible for lactose intolerance to develop seemingly out of the blue, especially in the case of secondary lactose intolerance, where an injury or illness triggers the condition.
  4. Is there a cure for lactose intolerance? While there's no cure, lactose intolerance can be managed through dietary modifications and lactase supplements.

In Conclusion: Embracing Your Genetic Dairy Destiny

So, there you have it – the science behind lactose intolerance, its genetic roots, and how to cope with a life of limited lactose. Armed with this knowledge, you can take control of your dairy destiny, indulge in delicious dairy-free alternatives, and maybe even sneak in a scoop of ice cream now and then.

At KOKORA, we're passionate about helping you unlock your genetic potential and understand your body's unique needs. So, if you're ready to explore your genetic predisposition to lactose intolerance or other health traits, check out our DNA Health Test and DNA + Epigenetic Health Test today.