Is Dairy the Devil?

I grew up in a family of dairy farmers, and was always a milk drinker. It’s hard to come of age during the “Got Milk” era and not think that dairy is the best thing since sliced bread. Back in 1994, if it was good enough for Doug Gilmour and his cow legs, it was good enough for me. I didn’t just have a little dairy. I was a 3-4 glasses of milk a day plus yogurt and cottage cheese kind of teenager. It wasn’t until I was in Naturopathic School that I started to question dairy. I had long standing sinus congestion and post nasal drip and when I stopped drinking 3-4 glasses of milk a day these symptoms magically disappeared.

Fast forward to today in my practice and the subject of “Is Dairy the Devil” is something that comes up on a daily basis. One of the first things I like to talk about with patients is the different components of dairy that people can be sensitive to. There is lactose intolerance and then there is sensitivity to the proteins in dairy; whey and casein.

Lactose Intolerance vs Dairy Sensitivity

  • Lactose Intolerance- happens when people are deficient in the enzyme lactase making them unable to properly break down lactose, the sugar in milk.
  • Whey and/or Casein Sensitivity- Casein is the main protein found in dairy products. When someone has a sensitivity, the proteins can get through the permeable and inflamed gut wall and the body attacks the protein, as it is not supposed to be there

One of the most common misconceptions I find with my patients is they think that by switching to lactose-free dairy they can negate any of the sensitivity issues with dairy. This is not the case, as both whey and casein are still present in lactose-free products.

Dairy and Calcium

In North America we have been told for years that we need to consume dairy to make sure we have adequate calcium intake and to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, especially for women. While dairy does contain a good amount of calcium, the correlation to reduction in fractures and osteoporosis has not been seen. In the Nurse’s Health Study the opposite effect was observed. Those who consumed the most dairy had 50% more fractures. From an epidemiological standpoint, countries with the lowest rates of dairy intake, like those in Africa and Asia, also have the lowest rates of osteoporosis. You may have also noticed recently or been told by your doctor, naturopathic doctor or pharmacist to reduce the amount of supplemental calcium you take on a daily basis. This is due to a study released in 2013 by the National Institutes of Health showing that taking more than 1500 mg of calcium/day was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The current guideline is supplementing with no more than 1000 mg/day.

Bone Health

Dairy and calcium are not the be all and end all for bone health either. Newer research has shown that Vitamin D (which many people are deficient in in Canada), Vitamin K2, and magnesium all work together with calcium to support bone health.

Dairy, Calcium and Cancer

The research on whether having a high intake of dairy increases your risk of cancer has been mixed. Dairy contains relatively high levels of Insulin Like Growth Factor 1, (IGF-1), which is a known cancer promoter because it is a stimulus for high cell growth rate. Recent studies have shown that dairy may be linked to hormonal cancers such as prostate, testicular, breast and ovarian.

Calcium Alternatives

Once my patients have been determined to be sensitive to dairy, the next question is always about other ways to get their calcium. Foods that are good sources of calcium are:

                -Dark Leafy Green Vegetables

                -Sesame Seed and Tahini

                -Salmon with the Bones

                -Sea Vegetables

Aside from all we have already talked about regarding dairy, it is a food that many people are sensitive to. For those who are lactose intolerant, they usually experience digestive symptoms like bloating, cramps, gas and diarrhea. The symptoms however of a sensitivity to whey or casein (the proteins in dairy) are much more varied.

Signs You Could Have a Dairy Sensitivity

  • Gas/Bloating- Can happen with both dairy sensitivity and lactose intolerance
  • Post Nasal Drip- Dairy is a mucous forming food
  • Sinus Congestion/Infections- From the increased mucous production
  • Acne- Dairy contains IGF-1 which increases insulin and inflammation. People will often get acne around their mouth and on their chin with a dairy sensitivity
  • PCOS- IGF-1 increases insulin which causes the ovaries to make androgens like testosterone
  • Eczema- Dairy is inflammatory, and can cause eczema flares
  • Insomnia- This is especially common in children

Everyone responds a little differently to dairy. To find out how your body is responding, remove all forms of dairy for one month and see how you feel.

Do you consume dairy? Share in the comments below

Talk Soon,

Dr Alexis

Dr Alexis practices in Kanata and is accepting new patients. To schedule your appointment, click here.

Naturopathic medicine is covered by most extended health care benefits. 

← Older Post Newer Post →


  • Hi Nancy,

    I am so sorry that you have had to go through all of these troubles with your son. He is very lucky to have a mom who is informed and looking out for his health. Please don’t beat yourself up about giving him dairy. Many children are given dairy frequently and do not have such severe reactions. Food allergies/sensitivities can be a bit of a blessing in terms of the entire family eating healthier food. With how busy our society is today, especially those with young children, frozen pizzas are all too often the meal of choice. I am glad that his eczema and asthma are under control.

    Dr Alexis Reid on
  • Hi Jen!

    Cow phlegm…eww! I will have to use that one with my patients who are very resistant to giving up cheese :) Yes I have found that now a days there are plenty of good alternative. It is helpful with children to never start them on dairy, then you do not have to switch them to an alternative…as it is all they know,
    I also agree that a reduction in dairy is better than nothing at all.
    Keep up the good work!
    Dr Alexis

    Dr Alexis on
  • I also grew up with dairy farmers in my family and was also a 3-4 glass/ day plus yogurt and cheese type.
    I cut it out cold turkey (along with other stuff) for a few months. I really missed cheese. I found I really liked almond milk and have substituted it for most of my milk consumption. I still struggle with cheese although I read an article about the “Kardashian diet” and their trainer described cheese as cow phlegm. Ew. That only stops me from eating it 5% of the time. I figure, all in moderation!

    Jen M on
  • I stopped a large part of dairy over 10 years ago. I still struggle with ice cream and cheese on pizza.

    I had a child at 40 and I knew from the China Study and Forks Over Knives not to give cows milk. I didn’t want him on it anyway. Because I couldn’t breast feed, I chose soy formula which was absolutely fine. The pediatrician gave us a free can of milk formula. He didn’t have soy nor, necessarily, believe in it.

    We went through ‘what we have’ and gave him a milk formula bottle at 4 months. It came out both ends. I regret that. Had I waited till he was over a year, he may not have the dairy allergy he has now. He carries an epi pen and dairy is everywhere in school. I can only hope his reaction would not be severe if he consumed it.

    It’s a bit of a blessing in disguise because I’m not a great cook. I think without his dairy allergy forcing me to stay strict on no dairy, I would have aged to old habits with cheese and pizza.

    He also has ezcema. (for which we use your skin condition cream – it has everything in there that I would put if I made it myself!) I swear his ezcema is no where near as bad as it would be if there were dairy in his diet. Even his asthma isn’t bad at all. All of that inherited from his dad.

    Anyway, I agree dairy is not good. I know the benefits first hand.

    Thanks for the article and your cream!

    Nancy on

Leave a comment