The American Journal of Digestive Diseases

, Volume 15, Issue 8, pp 695–710

Primary adult lactose intolerance and the milking habit: A problem in biologic and cultural interrelations

II. A culture historical hypothesis
  • Frederick J. Simoons

DOI: 10.1007/BF02235991

Cite this article as:
Simoons, F.J. Digest Dis Sci (1970) 15: 695. doi:10.1007/BF02235991


The principal conclusion reached in Part I of this article (1) was that the group differences found in primary adult lactose intolerance among the world's peoples are largely genetic in origin. In this part, after a review of recent research that adds to Part I in important ways, we turn to a consideration of the conditions of genetic selection that may have led some groups of men to have persistently high levels of intestinal lactase throughout life, and others not. Low incidence of intolerance, it is held, would develop over time in a group that has an abundant milk supply, that has alternate foodstuffs inadequate in amount and quality, and that consumes milk in lactose-rich forms. Since such selection cannot have occurred among groups that did not use milk, areas of nonmilking in the modern world are first delimited. The origins and diffusion of dairying are then sketched to determine the length of time that milk was consumed in various regions. With the background thus gained, the present-day occurrence of various Old World groups with high and low incidences of intolerance is explained. All groups studied so far within the traditional areas of nonmilking are found to have high incidences of intolerance. Overseas groups, such as American Negroes, whose ancestors came from nonmilking regions also have high incidences of intolerance. Within the areas of milking in Africa and Europe, moreover, the known group differences in tolerance are found to be in accord with the hypothesis. Then, that the hypothesis may further be confirmed, specific additional research efforts are suggested.

Copyright information

© Hoeber Medical Division • Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated 1970

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frederick J. Simoons
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of CaliforniaDavis

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