2

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How quickly can we 'evolve' genetically to adapt to new foods? Recent article on dairy consumption, evolution and Western civilization

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created October 24, 2012 at 2:24 PM

Since a good part of the paleo rationale is based on the idea that we are not genetically adapted to eat a certain way, it seems very relevant and quite interesting to look at this example of how quickly such a genetic mutation/adaptation can occur (in some of the population).

"Two hundred thousand years later, around 10,000 B.C., this began to change. A genetic mutation appeared, somewhere near modern-day Turkey, that jammed the lactase-production gene permanently in the ???on??? position. The original mutant was probably a male who passed the gene on to his children. People carrying the mutation could drink milk their entire lives. Genomic analyses have shown that within a few thousand years, at a rate that evolutionary biologists had thought impossibly rapid, this mutation spread throughout Eurasia, to Great Britain, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, India and all points in between, stopping only at the Himalayas. Independently, other mutations for lactose tolerance arose in Africa and the Middle East, though not in the Americas, Australia, or the Far East. In an evolutionary eye-blink, 80 percent of Europeans became milk-drinkers; in some populations, the proportion is close to 100 percent. (Though globally, lactose intolerance is the norm; around two-thirds of humans cannot drink milk in adulthood.) The speed of this transformation is one of the weirder mysteries in the story of human evolution, more so because it's not clear why anybody needed the mutation to begin with."

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_evolution/2012/10/evolution_of_lactose_tolerance_why_do_humans_keep_drinking_milk.html

Doesn't this really go to show that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the diet? Some individuals might really benefit from consuming dairy, while others would experience symptoms of food sensitivity, lactose intolerance, or other health issues.

Personally I have been gradually trying to 'fade out' my dairy consumption, which was not that high to begin with, but I find it very difficult as there is simply no replacement for a good cheese, or cream, or yogurt! It opens up a world of possibilities to include some dairy in an already restricted eating plan. Yet, I suspect that I may be one of those individuals that is better off dairy-free.

At the moment I leave it as a dilemma and unresolved question... but I would be very interested to hear your perspectives on this topic, reactions to the article, and personal reasons for deciding to keep or exclude dairy products from your diet.

66974b2cb291799dcd661b7dec99a9e2

(11121)

on October 24, 2012
at 09:48 PM

What you mention may be 'Punctuated Equilibrium" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punctuated_equilibrium. Long periods of very little change followed but quick bursts of rapid change.

3bc294cb7745a5e99612ff886ca00101

(1186)

on October 24, 2012
at 07:30 PM

I agree about the speed. Evolution in spurts makes a lot of sense, but evolving to drink milk, well, babies and small children do that quite well. Cellulose? I'd want to get by on photosynthesis!

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on October 24, 2012
at 07:25 PM

Campbell's casein studies were studies on the carcinogenicity of aflatoxin, not casein.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 24, 2012
at 07:08 PM

With a name like Heidi you're practically an ad for Swiss cheese...sorry, couldn't resist....

Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 24, 2012
at 07:07 PM

I think this is unnecessarily picky. Amino acids are amino acids, and we're an unsophisticated troop of scavenging omnivores. As far as cellulose....we are not a cow....the best you can hope for as edible cellulose is an acid hydrolysis product composed of sugars....

Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 24, 2012
at 07:02 PM

I prefer yogurt, sour cream, cheeses and buttermilk to milk itself. From a blood glucose standpoint, the enzymatic conversion of lactose to lactic acid reduces the postprandial spikes.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 24, 2012
at 06:58 PM

Yes. I inherited lactose tolerance, and have passed it on to my children and grandchildren. I take advantage of it. I think it's silly not to take advantage of evolution, and sillier to say that everything was finished 200,000 years ago.

3eca93d2e56dfcd768197dc5a50944f2

(11697)

on October 24, 2012
at 06:02 PM

I'm also an advocate of fermented dairy (minimal lactose) from A2 animals only (more compatible casein). I avoid US cow unfermented milk. Home-made goat kefir is a must though, because the beneficial yeasts and bacteria in it are really good for you, research has shown. 10x more potent than Greek yogurt to fix your gut.

3bc294cb7745a5e99612ff886ca00101

(1186)

on October 24, 2012
at 04:21 PM

Good points... By microbes, you mean fermented milk products like cheese, kefir, yogurt I assume. I agree, and those would be my primary intake of dairy as well. If you have no digestive problem with lactose though, what is the difference if it is fermented or not, I wonder. I grew up drinking milk, and it does seem rather absurd to me now to 'have a glass of milk'. I would however love to try drinking raw fresh milk from cow, goat or sheep (or even camel). Have never tried before.

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3 Answers

5
B6114a1980b1481fb18206064f3f4a4f

(3924)

on October 24, 2012
at 06:39 PM

I remember studying this theory of evolution in grad school (my M.S. is in ecology and evolutionary biology) that talked about how evolution tended to happen in spurts. Tens of thousands or perhaps millions of years would go by with little change in a species' DNA, then in a few hundred years a totally new and important gene could become fixed in the population. It was a mind blowing and new concept at the time (20 years ago) since we had always believed that evolution happened gradually and slowly. But now this "quick spurts" theory is readily accepted by most evolutionary biologists.

I find this evolutionary adaption of milk-drinking very interesting but not that incredible. I personally am one of those people that does fine with milk, so I see no reason to deprive myself of butter and cream and an occasional treat of kefir, yogurt or cheese. It makes my mouth happier!

66974b2cb291799dcd661b7dec99a9e2

(11121)

on October 24, 2012
at 09:48 PM

What you mention may be 'Punctuated Equilibrium" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punctuated_equilibrium. Long periods of very little change followed but quick bursts of rapid change.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 24, 2012
at 07:08 PM

With a name like Heidi you're practically an ad for Swiss cheese...sorry, couldn't resist....

1
7bf306ada57db47547e9da39a415edf6

(11214)

on October 24, 2012
at 06:15 PM

There is still the question as to whether or not milk proteins from other animals are actually good for us. Casein was the only animal protein Campbell had any scientific reason to correlate with cancer in his crappy China study.
Now, in times past, being able to drink milk probably would have been a net benefit- more calories for people who didn't have a life span long enough to really worry much about cancer.

So, if someone has such a biological advantage, they tend to out breed everyone else, which is the possible source of mystification, given that modern humans seem to insist on pursuing either questionable or downright non- reproductive strategies.

I don't think there's much reason to feel staggered at the speed here either, since it is merely an ability from childhood left on into adulthood. Now, if I suddenly could get by on cellulose- well, that would be something.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 24, 2012
at 07:07 PM

I think this is unnecessarily picky. Amino acids are amino acids, and we're an unsophisticated troop of scavenging omnivores. As far as cellulose....we are not a cow....the best you can hope for as edible cellulose is an acid hydrolysis product composed of sugars....

3bc294cb7745a5e99612ff886ca00101

(1186)

on October 24, 2012
at 07:30 PM

I agree about the speed. Evolution in spurts makes a lot of sense, but evolving to drink milk, well, babies and small children do that quite well. Cellulose? I'd want to get by on photosynthesis!

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on October 24, 2012
at 07:25 PM

Campbell's casein studies were studies on the carcinogenicity of aflatoxin, not casein.

1
F9638b939a6f85d67f60065677193cad

(4266)

on October 24, 2012
at 03:53 PM

Just because you can digest lactose doesn't mean you should. I prefer to let the microbes digest it for me and eat the resulting product. In my own family, I was told as a child that after childhood you do not drink milk. It is not necessary. Milk is for children. That's how I was raised so I think it's odd that adults drink milk. I'm northern European by ancestry, too, and can digest milk just fine. But even the Lapplanders consume most of their milk processed by herbs or microbes.

As for the whole evolution thing and the beginning of agriculture, does anybody realize that even though agriculture may have begun 10- or 20,000 years ago, that many parts of Europe had no agriculture as little as 400 years ago?

Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 24, 2012
at 07:02 PM

I prefer yogurt, sour cream, cheeses and buttermilk to milk itself. From a blood glucose standpoint, the enzymatic conversion of lactose to lactic acid reduces the postprandial spikes.

3eca93d2e56dfcd768197dc5a50944f2

(11697)

on October 24, 2012
at 06:02 PM

I'm also an advocate of fermented dairy (minimal lactose) from A2 animals only (more compatible casein). I avoid US cow unfermented milk. Home-made goat kefir is a must though, because the beneficial yeasts and bacteria in it are really good for you, research has shown. 10x more potent than Greek yogurt to fix your gut.

3bc294cb7745a5e99612ff886ca00101

(1186)

on October 24, 2012
at 04:21 PM

Good points... By microbes, you mean fermented milk products like cheese, kefir, yogurt I assume. I agree, and those would be my primary intake of dairy as well. If you have no digestive problem with lactose though, what is the difference if it is fermented or not, I wonder. I grew up drinking milk, and it does seem rather absurd to me now to 'have a glass of milk'. I would however love to try drinking raw fresh milk from cow, goat or sheep (or even camel). Have never tried before.

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