milking it | 

Irish researcher discovers ‘drinking milk made ancient humans heavier and taller’

Researchers found that the milk-drinking habits of ancient relatives may contribute to how lactose intolerant they are today.

Stock photo© Getty Images/Onoky

Maeve McTaggartSunday World

A researcher in Belfast has found that drinking milk made ancient humans heavier and taller in a study that also shows where lactose intolerance began.

The study from the University of Western Ontario – with data provided by Queen’s University – looked at skeletons in archaeological sites spread over 25,000 years.

They found that because of people in North Europe’s milk-drinking, modern humans in the region are more lactose tolerant than those in the south.

The research found that ancient humans that drank milk were bigger, taller and had higher levels of genes that produce more enzymes that help digest milk.

Researchers found that the milk-drinking habits of ancient relatives may determine the level of lactose tolerance someone has today.

“Through this study we’ve found that drinking milk led to increased skeletal growth and taller populations in some parts of the world,” said Dr Eoin Parkinson from Archaeology and Palaeoecology at the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s.

He told “Everyone probably has memories from their childhood of being told to drink up their milk to help them grow.

“We can almost think of this in the context of our own evolutionary story and we see trends in dairy consumption going back as far as 7,000 years ago having an impact on how people process dairy products today.

“Drinking milk and the consumption of dairy products is a vital component in food culture in many parts of the world, so it is interesting to understand the underlying biological processes related to these practices,” he added.

A team of 16 researchers examined 3,507 skeletons from 366 different sites.

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