Drinking milk ‘made ancient humans bigger and stronger’

According to researchers, drinking milk made ancient humans fatter and bulkier. (Getty Pictures)

Parents often ask children to drink milk for stronger bonesand for good reason it turns out.

Drinking milk may have made ancient humans taller and heavier, researchers have said.

They analyzed skeletons from archaeological sites spread over a period of 25,000 years and found that milk led to an increase in human height between 7,000 and 2,000 years ago.

The increase in height has taken place in areas where people had genes that allowed them to drink milksaid the scientists.

In some areas, ancient humans had higher levels of genes that enabled the production of enzymes – called lactase persistence – that digest milk into adulthood.

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Dr Eoin Parkinson, from the Department of Archeology and Paleoecology, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Through this study, we found that milk consumption led to skeletal growth increased and larger populations in some parts of the world.

“Everyone probably has memories from their childhood where they were told to drink their milk to help them grow.

“We can almost think of this in the context of our own evolutionary history and we see trends in dairy consumption dating back 7,000 years, impacting how people process dairy today.

“Consumption of milk and dairy products is a central part of food culture in many parts of the world, so it is of interest to understand the underlying biological processes related to these practices.”

He added: “Agriculture emerged in the Near East before groups of farmers migrated to Europe, bringing with them a host of new domesticated plants and dairy animals.

“In parts of northern and central Europe, where local environments were unsuited to newly imported cultures from Southwest Asia, human societies responded by increasing milk consumption.”

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The study, involving a team of 16 researchers, compared the stature and body mass of 3,507 skeletons from 366 different archaeological sites.

This created a large comparative data set to examine the variation of the human body over time and geographic location.

The dataset used in the study was primarily based on European samples, largely due to historically more frequent archaeological exploration on the continent.

Agriculture developed in different regions independently, and migrant farmers brought with them crops and dairy animals to parts of Eurasia occupied by hunter-gatherers.

The ability to digest larger amounts of lactose has led to greater energy availability from dairy products.

The legacy of ancient milk consumption is still evident today, through varying frequencies of lactose intolerance in populations.

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