Does peoples' digestion work differently in different cultures?

The “authentic Mexican food” thread inspired this one.

Usually the Mexican food Americans eat doesn’t really agree with our gastrointestinal system. So is that the same way with with Mexicans (in Mexico) or does their digestive system adapt to handle the food, uh, better?

I suppose this applies to other cultures too, but this is the first example that came to mind.

Your digestive system will pretty much adjust to whatever it gets on a regular basis (within reason…it probably won’t adjust to, say, wallpaper paste or something). For instance, if you rarely eat beans, you’ll have trouble with them, but if you start eating them regularly you won’t. I used to eat meats of all sorts before I quit eating them about a year ago. A couple days ago it was my birthday and I said “what the hell, I’ll have a nice lean piece of sirloin” and spent the whole night in agony. For the record I don’t have a problem with most mexican food. If you’re used to a lot of spices, you’re just used to a lot of spices. I think you can “build up” to it if you desire.

I’m quite sure one’s digestive system will adapt to the food that’s being eaten. Much like how some cultures eat very spicy foods but have no apparent digestive problems but if a person from a culture that eats mainly mild foods eats the spicy stuff, they’ll be sittin’ on the porcelein throne for a bit.

Koalas develop their unique eucalyptus-leaf digestion by eating their mother’s droppings for the first few weeks of life. It gives them the bacteria that enables them to break it down.

Don’t know if there’s a human parallel though. (I hope not).

Mother’s milk, perhaps? If I were to breast-feed a child, they most likely would have an amazing tolerance for vodka!
JOKE! It’s a JOKE! I know better than to have a child given my current state of toxicity.

I read that it was normal in some Asian countries for people to have several bowel movements each day, around six or seven. This was supposedly due to differences in diet. I know that my bowel movements increased in frequency when I changed my diet to include more diet (went from 3 or so times a week to usually at least 1 a day, sometimes 2 or 3), but I find it hard to imagine having to take a shit 8 times a day and that being normal.

Coeliac disorder (which requires a gluten-free diet) is sometimes called ‘Irish Disease’ because there is a higher rate of incidence there.

I’ve not researched the possible reasons for this, but maybe it is due to the historical reliance on potatoes as a carbohydrate; in a culture where wheat is the staple, the coeliac sufferer is quite likely to be very ill indeed, but if wheat is not part of the diet, there is nothing to select against it.

There is a similar thing with many Asians and alcohol; historically in the west, we were boiling our water and brewing beer with it; you either drank beer or risked dying young from some nasty water-borne disease; this creates a positive selection of any mutation that should come along enabling the drinker to better cope with alcohol - in Asia, they were boiling their water, but drinking it as tea, so there is no reason for an alcohol-tolerance mutation to be selected and become widespread.

      • Yea, ain’t that how it always happens? The toxicity lubricates the child-bearing process, as it were… - DougC

The OP makes me remember a story I heard some years ago about a claim among some Japanese writers that the Japanese digestive tract was X measures longer, supposedly making them more efficient at absorbing nutrients from their food. The not-so-subtle implication is of course that this digestive efficiency (OK, call it “gas mileage” and go for the obvious pun) equates to biological superiority and thus something like a “superior race”.

Are you saying that in the maybe 400 years since potatoes were introduced into Ireland, there has been significant evolution? Absurd. (Remember that potatoes were new world.) Now perhaps a couple of milleniums of using oats and barley instead of wheat could just conceivably have done it, but I am not taking bets on it. As for alcohol tolerance having been bred into certain populations and not other, that seems possible. But these facile evolutionary explanations that are not backed up by real evidence are “just so” stories and I distrust them. Which doesn’t mean they are wrong, but they do require evidence.

One thing that has become clear from the human genome project is that many, maybe most or all, genes make more than one protein and therefore any mutation potentially has multiple effects. Actually that is true even without it, since many enzymes have different effects in different tissues, depending on what else is around. Thus both celiac sprue and long hair could be results of mutations that were selected for for entirely different (and possibly unknown) reasons. One thing that has become much clearer in recent years is that much evolution is driven by infectious agents.

Hari: Please don’t take this as a challenge:

“One thing that has become much clearer in recent years is that much evolution is driven by infectious agents.”

I had not heard this, though it seems credible. Would you know where I could read more about it?