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the story of the lactose-intolerant meiadeleite

i feel like this blog (ergo, me) is in need of a swift kick in the butt, to set it back straight. there’s so much to tell you… let’s just get to it!

friends who stay with us often seem surprised to discover that i, miss meiadeleite, cannot stomach milk. it wasn’t always this way. i used to love drinking milk with everything, up until about 3 years ago.

but then, in early 2011 i stopped drinking milk, as part of our diet experiment. i didn’t really miss it, so i skipped it for months and promptly forgot about it. later that year, i received my 23andme dna test results and was a bit intrigued to see this:

“who, me? lactose intolerant? nonsense!”, i thought – i drank milk my whole life!

but then i started to think about it… and some things started making sense. in the last few years, every time we went back to portugal, we ate whatever our parents put in front of us – not wanting to burden them with too many rules and restrictions on our short time there. so we drank meiadeleites for breakfast and ate leite creme to our little heart’s content… and invariably, while we were there, i’d get stomach problems. i would write it off as the consequences of general unhealthy eating… but then it got me thinking… could it be that when i stopped drinking milk every day, my body just gave up on dealing with the lactose? (i imagine it doing it in a overly dramatic fashion, with a big sigh of relief…)

this was a valid hypothesis, so, as scientists that we are, we experimented. the results were quite… striking. a glass of milk? immediate disaster. a tiny yoghurt cup? disaster. cheese was ok in small doses, as was butter, but all the rest was off the table.

and this is how i found that i’ve made myself lactose intolerant. the name of this blog hasn’t made sense for quite a while now, but i don’t mind. i know i could probably re-introduce it in the diet if i wanted, but truth is, i just don’t miss it all that much – and when in doubt, there are usually lactase pills nearby! :)

6 replies on “the story of the lactose-intolerant meiadeleite”

This is very interesting, as you’re not the first one who told me about that kind of experience, but you’re the first one explaining the process that made you understand your intolerance. I am a little confused, though. Do you believe that you were born intolerant to lactose but managed to deal with it all your life, until you stopped drinking milk? Or do you think that you became intolerant because you stopped drinking milk and your body lost its capability to deal with lactose, as it was harder to do than for people with no predisposition to intolerance?

I’m just asking out of curiosity, really, because a lot of people around here consume only low-lactose or no-lactose products (there are a lot of those here). Finns drink a lot of milk but are at the same time very conscious of lactose intolerance issues. I myself don’t like milk, so I suppose i’m not so much at risk :)

But I’m also curious about something else: is there a particular reason why you took that genetic test? I had a conversation recently with a friend who did it for very sensible reason, but we couldn’t decide whether a normally healthy person should try it, with the risk of ending frightened about possible health problems that might never arise. Any idea about that? I think that could make for a very interesting blog post :)

hey Nathalie! good questions!

so the way i understand it, lactase is an “inducible enzyme”, which means your body can adapt its production according to the quantity that you need (typically more in your childhood, less onwards). since i had drunk lots of milk all my life, my body kept making it, sort of “out of habit”. but when i stopped having dairy, my body just slowly stopped making it. theoretically, i could gradually re-introduce dairy and thus kickstart the enzyme production again… but since i don’t miss milk, that sounds like too much trouble.

some people (like paulo), have a sort of “lactase persistance”: even if they don’t drink milk for years, they’re still able to process it, because they keep making the enzyme regardless of their dairy intake. i think that part has to do with your genes. :)

about the genetic tests… the main reason was curiosity. my grandma died of alzheimer’s, and i knew i’d likely have the same genes, but i didn’t know what else i was at risk for. now i know – and knowing it helps me be more aware and take active steps to prevent those diseases. look at it this way – if you knew you had a higher change of getting skin cancer, wouldn’t you use a little more sunscreen? :)

i’m not frightened or hypochondriac… just trying my best to be realistic, and betting on prevention instead of treatment while i still can.

Thank you for these answers! I didn’t know the body processed lactase that way, I didn’t have any idea that intolerance was connected to variations in the level of consumption. I hope for you that “meiadeleite” can be made with lactase-free “milk” :) And thanks for these precisions about genetic tests, it’s a very interesting point of view. I’m still wondering how I would react if I took the test and learned I were in particular danger for ailments that can’t be prevented… But then they are in the minority, so the risk might be worth it and I suppose that was your thinking too :)

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