In 1836, after returning from the Beagle, Charles Darwin wrote “I have had a bad spell. Vomiting every day for eleven days, and some days after every meal.” Darwin suffered for over 40 years from long bouts of vomiting, stomach cramps, headaches, severe tiredness, skin problems and depression. A number of researchers now think he suffered from lactose intolerance. His case is a good example of how easily lactose intolerance can be missed.
Lactose intolerance is when the body can’t digest the sugar in milk – lactose. When this happens, bacteria in the gut are forced to ferment it instead. This leads to the classic symptoms Darwin experienced such as: diarrhoea, bloating, stomach ache, nausea and vomiting.
More serious symptoms can include: muscle and joint pain, headaches, dizziness, lethargy, difficulty with short-term memory, mouth ulcers, allergies (eczema, rhinitis, sinusitis and asthma), irregular heartbeat, sore throat, increased frequency of urination, acne and depression.
Toxins produced by the bacteria may also play a key role in other diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and some cancers.
Lactose intolerance and cow’s milk allergy are often mistakenly confused. Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of lactase (the enzyme that digests lactose, the sugar in milk), cow’s milk allergy is an adverse immune reaction to proteins found in milk.
Most people in the world don’t drink cow’s milk – around 70 per cent of the world’s population are lactose intolerant, losing their ability to digest lactose around the age of two years, after weaning. Milk is for babies!
Drinking cow’s milk is neither normal nor natural. The health implications of being the only mammal to consume milk as adults (and not just that, milk from another species too) are becoming clear as levels of the so-called diseases of affluence soar.
The treatment for lactose intolerance is straightforward: avoid lactose. This means cutting out all dairy foods and checking labels for lactose in bread, chocolate and other processed foods.