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Genetics and epidemiology of adult-type hypolactasia.

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Dept. of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Finland.


The prevalence of adult-type hypolactasia varies from less than 5% to almost 100% between different populations of the world. The lowest prevalence has been found in northwestern Europe, around the North Sea, and the highest prevalence in the Far East. The reason for the variation is that selective (primary) hypolactasia is genetically determined by an autosomal recessive single gene. It is assumed that thousands of years ago all people had hypolactasia in the same way as most mammals do today. At that time in cultures where milk consumption was started after childhood, lactase persistence had a selective advantage. Those people with lactase persistence were healthier and had more children than people with hypolactasia, and the frequency of the lactase persistence gene started to increase. The present prevalence of hypolactasia can be explained fairly well by this culture historical hypothesis. This article reviews the evidence for the inheritance of adult-type hypolactasia and the occurrence of hypolactasia in different countries and populations of the world.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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