Infant mammals are fed on milk by their mothers. To digest it an enzyme called lactase (β1-4 disaccharidase) is secreted by the intestinal villi, and this enzyme cleaves the molecule into its two subunits for absorption.
Since lactose occurs mostly in milk, in most species the production of lactase gradually ceases with maturity, and they are then unable to metabolise lactose. This loss of lactase on maturation is also the default pattern in most adult humans.citation However, many people with ancestry in Europe, the Middle East, India, and the Maasai of East Africa, have a version of the gene for lactase that is not disabled after infancy, and in many of these cultures other mammals such as cattle, goats, and sheep are milked for food.
This fact may cast doubt on some arguments by proponents of the Paleolithic diet, who argue that human metabolic needs have not changed since the last ice age. The process of retaining infant characteristics into adulthood is one of the simplest routes of adaptation, and is known as neoteny.