Ancient drawing with Cows and Milk

Should Adult Humans Drink Milk? Study of Neolithic Farmers May Have the Answer

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Many would remember the days when a milk trolley would be rolled out during morning recess at school and all the children would come running for their daily glass of milk, or the TV images of energetic children racing around the playground with the message to drink milk for healthy bones. However,  scientific research has questioned whether drinking cow’s milk is actually good for us at all. The answer to this question may lie in a study of our ancient Neolithic ancestors who first began the practice of dairy-related animal husbandry.

A multidisciplinary team of scientists from an EU-funded initiative, which began in 2009, examined the role played by milk, cheese, and yogurt in the early colonization of Europe and found that until 8,000 years ago, humans were only able to digest lactose, a form of sugar present in milk, during childhood and that as adults they lost the ability to produce endogenous lactase, the enzyme required to break down lactose.

Milking a cow, wall painting from the tomb of Methethi, Saqqara, Ancient Egypt (c 2371 - 2350 BC). Image source

However, shortly before the first farmers settled in Europe, a genetic mutation occurred in humans that resulted in the ability to produce lactase throughout their lives. Increasing numbers of adults in Central and Northern Europe were since been able to digest milk.

Just 5,000 years ago, lactase persistence was almost non-existent among the population but researchers believe that extensive positive selection and recurrent waves of migration were responsible for this development.

"To appreciate the significance of our findings, it is important to realize that a major proportion of present-day central and northern Europeans descend from just a small group of Neolithic farmers who happened to be able to digest fresh milk, even after weaning," explained Anthropologist Professor Joachim Burger of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU).  This reveals that far from being normal, the ability to digest milk is only the result of a strange genetic adaption.

Scientists point out, however, that 60% of modern-day people still lack the enzyme for breaking down lactose and just don’t know it, meaning that they experience a wide range of digestive and allergy problems which they have never had attributed to their milk-drinking.

Another argument that has been recently been debunked is that drinking cow’s milk increases bone strength and prevent osteoporosis. In fact, the skeletons of our Palaeolithic ancestors, who did not drink milk, reflect great strength and muscularity and a total absence of advanced osteoporosis, possibly due to the fact that research has shown we can get as much calcium as we need from grains and vegetables alone.

Of all the mammals on earth, human beings are the only ones who continue to drink milk beyond babyhood. Whether this should be the case or not is now in doubt.

Part 2 - Digesting Milk in Ethiopia

By April Holloway


This is a very interesting article. Amazing actually.

All I know is that several health problems I had disappeared completely when I stopped consuming any dairy products (including cheese).

So if only 60% can digest lactose should there not be more people drinking soyer milk ........? But all in all a good question would be what changes happened to give the other 40% the ability to drink milk after babyhood 

I have heard that soya milk is even worse for you, that most of it comes from GMO's and that it messes with the hormones. So don't know which is the lesser of two evils!

Soy milk is just as bad for you, especially for mimics estrogen in the body. Its also an unnatural processed food.

You cannot compare drinking milk today to what our Neolithic ancestors did for the simple fact that the milk products are vastly different. Ancestors and indigineous peoples drank pastured animal products, raw and unpasturized. Pesticide-free. Animals grazed on mineral-rich soils. The same reason why non-dairy drinking neolithics continued to show strong and healthy bones--because the vegetation they consumed was full of natural minerals. They also traditionally consume fermented dairy (probably the main dietary source for the Mongols, the sturdy traditional peoples responsible for conquering the largest area of the world ever.) Today's dairy consumption is a far cry from this. As for one's ability to digest lactase, that's an individual thing. You'll know if it applies to you or not. Since switching to grass fed milk, cheese and yogurt I have noticed a significant improvement in many areas of general well-being (including, ironically, weight loss.) I'd like to add raw unpasturized to the mix, but it's difficult to source.

You make great points about sourcing.  I think it’s safe to say that food quality in the neolithic was of a much higher grade than what many people eat today.

One consideration about cows milk I haven’t seen anyone here mention is that it contains hormones intended for calves.  Probably something best not given to human infants.

I agree that milk is intended only for babies, and I believe human babies do best drinking human, not cow, milk. I have chosen not to drink milk as an adult and I believe I am one of those who don't digest it well and yet have no observable symptoms. I am also blood type A (there has been research that people with Type A or Type O should not do milk but that those with Type B would usually do well with dairy, also based on genetic inheritance.) There are several reasons, including my understanding Chinese medicine) which further dissuade me from using diary. However, the protein in yogurt is predigested, and I have been muscle-tested that an ideal diet for me would include just 1/4 cup of yogurt two times a week (for its protein, calcium, and friendly bacteria).

Most people should also be fine with eating butter, but I have not used it since I stopped using dairy many years ago. Also, many people do better with drinking goat's milk than cow's milk, but goat's milk still does not muscle test well enough for me to allow me to use it (and fortunately I do not crave milk products either).

ancient-origins's picture

Thank you Danica!

Why is it that type-A blood should not drink milk? I'm A negative, so I was wondering.

i doubt the blood type would have anything to do with it. Most likely is a correlation treated as causality. Just ad the idea that one blood type is full of alcoholics and another of nuts. Correlation does not imply causality.

I became "Lactose intolerant" at about 18 years old. Since then I'm convinced that it's biologically normal for this to occur as we approach adulthood, this probably prevented adults from depriving milk from infants. Nature always finds a way to ensure we survive as a species.

Very interesting thing, I have some undefined allergic problems too. I'm gonna try it.

I also stopped drinking milk a few years ago and noticed improvements in my health. However I still can’t get rid of cheese and eat it from time to time, as rare as i can

It is in all probability a geographic thing I with Middle Eastern genetic origins (paternal) cannot digest Lactose whilst my mother (Celtic) could. This is probably too simplistic but the answer is there. somewhere, needs more research.

There is growing research that suggests it is better to give infants breast milk as opposed to proccessed cows milk because it has more nutrients.

Troy Mobley

liar liar pants on fire."Of all the mammals on earth, human beings are the only ones who continue to drink milk beyond babyhood" that is false. The reason why most members of any mammal family does not continue to drink milk past their babyhood is because parents force them to renounce it. In rare cases (this has been noticed on chimps) the "infant" manage to trick their parents into prelonging this period well into adulthood. Also compare bone density of people today that had until reaching adulhood (18 years) a diet rich in milk with those that did not. Do not compare random samples and then say it is proof.

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