Most of us love it, and wouldn’t consider living without it. However, if you’re experiencing negative health symptoms, it might pay off to stop and consider that dairy might be a factor.
Way back when I was first exploring what changes I would make in my diet to eliminate my joint pain, I said to myself, “But I’ll never give up dairy!” I just liked it that much.
Eventually, a food sensitivity test indicating my significant reaction to various dairy products made me decide to give elimination a try. And I noticed a big difference in how I felt. Not only was joint pain reduced, but periodic bouts of hives disappeared as did my mood swings.
I had never considered that these symptoms could be connected to a dairy reaction. Most of us only think of a food intolerance causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, discomfort, and nausea. Or, embarrassing symptoms like flatulence and diarrhea.
However, symptoms such as muscle or joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin symptoms like rashes and eczema linked to food intolerances.
Dairy is just one of those foods that many people seem to be intolerant of. Let’s talk about the main components of milk that people react to lactose, casein, and whey.
Milk sugar (lactose) intolerance
It’s estimated that up to 75% of adults are lactose intolerant. Lactose is the carbohydrate “milk sugar” naturally found in most dairy products. Lactose intolerance is so common you can buy lactose-free milk at your regular grocery store. Lactose-free products are treated with the enzyme “lactase” that breaks the lactose down before you ingest it. It’s this lactase enzyme that is lacking in most people who are lactose intolerant.
The lactase enzyme is naturally released to break down the lactose sugar in the gut. If you don’t have enough lactase, the lactose doesn’t get broken down the way it should and becomes food for the resident gut microbes. As they ferment the lactose, they create gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhea.
Lactose is in dairy but is in lower amounts in fermented dairy (e.g. cheese & yogurt) and butter. Steering clear of lactose isn’t that easy as it is added to other foods like baked goods, soups, and sauces. And if you’re taking any medications or supplements, check to see if it’s in there too, as lactose is a common ingredient in them.
If you have symptoms of lactose intolerance, keep an eye on food, medication, and supplement labels.
Milk protein (casein & whey) allergy
Milk is a common food allergen. In Canada, it must be declared on food labels.
So, what are the allergens in milk? You’ve heard of “curds and whey?” Well, these are the two main proteins in milk. The solid bits are the curds (made of casein), and the liquid is the dissolved whey.
Unlike lactose intolerance, casein and whey can cause an actual immune response. It’s an allergy. And this immune response can cause inflammation. In fact, we don’t know how many people have these milk allergies, but most estimates put it far below that of lactose intolerance.
Like lactose, these allergenic milk proteins can be found in other products too. They’re not just in dairy but are often in protein powders as well (Have you heard of “whey” protein powders?).
Some of the symptoms of milk protein allergy differ from that of lactose intolerance; things like nasal congestion and mucus (phlegm) are more common here. And casein seems to be linked with belly fat.
Interestingly, people who have gluten intolerance are often allergic to milk proteins like whey and casein as well. These can go hand-in-hand.
Like lactose intolerance, if you’re allergic to casein and whey keep an eye on labels so you can avoid these.
If you get gassy, bloated, or diarrhea after eating dairy, you may have a lactose intolerance. If you often get a stuffy nose and mucus, then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey.
But don’t worry that you can’t get your nutrition needs met without dairy. All the nutrients in dairy are available in other foods. If you experience these symptoms, try removing dairy from your diet. You may find improved digestion and fewer gut issues. Or you may find improved nasal congestion, or even less belly fat.
Not sure where to start? If you need help in determining whether dairy is an issue for you, click here to book a 20-minute discovery call with Bonnie to discuss.