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Although there will probably never be a shortage of people who love milk, ice cream, yogurt, and cheese, a growing number of people avoid dairy products, even though they are not lactose-intolerant. Here is the reason why.

I'll begin this article with a confession. I hate milk.

My aversion to milk stems from my vivid memories of an incident in my childhood. In the 1950's, when I was a small child, my family lived on a farm. Our part of Texas was struck by a catastrophic drought. The crops all failed for two years in a row, and we had to start hauling water 6 miles (10 km) each way once a week for drinking, bathing, and watering the garden and the animals.

To keep the farm and the house, my parents had to figure out a way to live on $75 a month. Part of their strategy was to raise vegetables, fruit, sheep, chickens, turkeys, cows, and pigs, and to depend on a cow, kept in a pen near the house.

One day when I was about three years old, I went with my dad to milk the cow. My father almost got a full pale of milk when the cow decided to add another brown bovine product to the mix. Knowing that we had no money, we were almost out of groceries, and we would not have dairy that week if we did not use the milk, my father fished out the offending substance and off to the kitchen it went.

I have never voluntarily drunk milk again ever since.

I can tell you that from what I have seen of modern dairies, there is very little chance of your milk suffering similar contamination. However, there is one basic reason most people around the world stop drinking milk after they finish breastfeeding or bottle feeding as infants. Between 85 and 90% of people in the world, most people who don't have ancestors from northern Europe or certain cattle-raising tribes in Africa, don't make the enzyme lactase that digests the milk sugar lactose after the age of 6.

They are lactose-intolerant because they are lactase-deficient.

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose is a kind of sugar found in milk. The lactose molecule is known as a disaccharide, that is, it consists of two different smaller molecules of different kinds of sugars chemically bound together. Before the human body can use lactose for energy, the lactose molecule has to be broken down into its chemical constituents, glucose and galactose. Otherwise, the lactose stays in the lumen, or central canal, of the intestines, where it can ferment and cause intense gassiness.

What Can Be Done About Lactose Intolerance?

If you are one of the over 6 billion people in the world who is lactose intolerant, there are several ways you can use dairy products in your diet:

  • You can consume dairy products in fermented form, as cheese and yogurt. Many people who cannot consume unfermented milk don't have a lot of problems with fermented milk.
  • You can consume dairy products that already have the lactase enzyme added to them.
  • You can take a lactase pill before you consume dairy products.
  • You can add liquid lactase to dairy just before drinking them.

But even if you aren't lactose-intolerant, there is a good reason you might want to avoid dairy products altogether. That reason is, dairy products are addictive.

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  • Bryant CD, Parker CC, Zhou L, Olker C, Chandrasekaran RY, Wager TT, Bolivar VJ, Loudon AS, Vitaterna MH, Turek FW, Palmer AA. Csnk1e is a genetic regulator of sensitivity to psychostimulants and opioids. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Mar. 37(4):1026-35. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.287. Epub 2011 Nov 16.
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