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.
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.
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:
-Sesame Seed and Tahini
-Salmon with the Bones
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
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.