You can’t swing a cat in a barn these days without hitting some new report out on the beleaguered dairy industry. Not that I’m endorsing cat swinging. Or swinging objects in barns. In fact, I can’t even endorse dairy because – have you heard? – 60% of adults can’t digest milk. And the bad news keeps rolling in: all of that stuff we’ve been told about low-fat dairy aiding in weight loss and strengthening bones and giving us a healthy smile? Aside from getting Heidi Klum to dress up as the world’s hottest milkmaid, all those claims are just not true, so says the new research which contradicts the old research – the old research that was all funded by the dairy industry.

This news greatly concerns me because I happen to love my dairy products. Unfortunately I’ve discovered that they may not love me back. You may recall I’ve been struggling with anxiety/panic attacks with ever-increasing frequency over the past 6 months or so. Several weeks ago I tried going gluten-free on the advice of my Life Time Fitness* genius nutritionist Darryl Bushard who thought that inflammation from eating gluten might be jacking with my mood. After three weeks with no gluten my panic attacks were still worsening – to the point where a week ago I had a full-fledged incident involving vomiting, diarrhea, uncontrollable shaking and heart palpitations so badly that several years ago it would have sent me to the ER. Fortunately I now can recognize it for what it is and that it will pass but nevertheless, it was excruciating. In consulting again with my nutritionist I assumed he’d tell me to take out sugar (the white devil bedevils me!) but he surprised me. His instruction? “Try taking out dairy.”

Dairy? Is related to anxiety?!

My sister, my non-expert source on food sensitivities — she has one child with an autoimmune disorder and several others with marked sensitivities so she’s been to this rodeo before — agreed with him. “You already know you are a HSP (highly sensitive person) and research has linked HSPs to a higher incidence of food sensitivities, particularly gluten.” (Note: I could not find this study as of press time but I’m still looking. HSP research is a pretty new field…) Then she added, “And my doctors told us that dairy and gluten issues often go together.”

This is Dr. Daniel Kalish has to say:

“Lactase, a specialized enzyme that aids digestion of lactose in milk products is usually lacking in people with sub-clinical gluten intolerance. Lactase breaks down lactose or milk sugar in the same way sucrase enzymes breaks down sugar or sucrose. Damage to the architecture of the intestinal wall and the subsequent decrease in enzymes for lactose and sucrose digestion leads to problems in digesting dairy products such as cheese, ice cream, and all types of milk products.

This enzyme deficiency is why people with sub-clinical gluten intolerance need to avoid pasteurized cow’s milk products. As the villi on the intestinal lining heal from a gluten-free diet, most individuals will be able to tolerate raw or unpasteurized dairy products again in nine months to a year. In other people, there will be a more or less permanent sensitivity to dairy products.

However, in the initial two months of eliminating gluten, it is absolutely required to avoid all milk dairy products, because they will inflame the intestine lining just like gliadin does and prevent healing. This includes the complete elimination of pasteurized cow’s milk products such as cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk. Goat’s milk yogurt and goat or sheep’s milk cheeses such as feta cheese and others are acceptable alternatives. In this instance, eggs are not considered as dairy products. Raw or unpasteurized dairy products are healing foods for the damaged GI tract lining.”

This was kind of a shock for me because while giving up gluten was surprisingly easy for me – I don’t normally eat bread, crackers, pretzels, boxed cereals etc anyhow – dairy has always been my love. “Cheese is my chocolate” is one of my fave catchphrases. Not to mention that taking out whey as a protein source leaves me with soy, a food of dubious health benefits that really does give me intestinal issues. And occasionally I do really like a cold glass of milk, much to the horror of the vegan community who like to point out ad nauseam that humans are the only animals to drink milk past infancy and/or drink the milk of other mammals – a fact which isn’t true despite being repeated a whole lot. Many animals will drink milk of any variety if they can get their paws on it (What do you think all those cats you were just swinging around were doing in the barn in the first place?) We just happen to be the only animals who farm. In addition to drinking the stuff, I eat it nearly every day in its fermented state as my homemade yogurt and as any variety of cheese. Let’s not even talk about my ice cream addiction.

Aside from my culinary predilections, however, there remain two important pieces of information:

  1. The 60% of adults as described earlier who can’t digest milk.
  2. Nobody past infancy needs milk to survive.

Taken together, this makes me wonder if I’m not too enamored of my moo juice.

So what exactly does an “inability to digest milk” look like? According to research, the ability to metabolize lactose, the sugar in milk, is an aberration.

It’s not normal. Somewhat less than 40% of people in the world retain the ability to digest lactose after childhood. The numbers are often given as close to 0% of Native Americans, 5% of Asians, 25% of African and Caribbean peoples, 50% of Mediterranean peoples and 90% of northern Europeans. Sweden has one of the world’s highest percentages of lactase tolerant people.

Being able to digest milk is so strange that scientists say we shouldn’t really call lactose intolerance a disease, because that presumes it’s abnormal. Instead, they call it lactase persistence, indicating what’s really weird is the ability to continue to drink milk.

Being of mostly northern European descent, I would have thought that makes me one of the fortunate mutants. And yet if anxiety is a symptom of dairy intolerance then sign me up to get rid of it. So I gave up dairy a week ago. And I have not had one single incidence of anxiety since.

Let me repeat that: NO anxiety in a week where I was having it to some extent nearly every day for the past several months.

This is huge for me. Honestly it’s too early in the experiment for me to conclude that taking out gluten AND dairy is the magic key. So many other factors like stress levels, hormones, the seasons and other variables play a part in an anxiety disorder. Plus, I’ve always been an anxious person. But this sense of calm I’ve felt this past week is amazing enough to make me want to continue on with this. I love ice cream, yes, but I LOVE not have panic attacks way more. And it’s this mindset that has made all the difference. Instead of feeling deprived when all my friends ate pizza last night, I truly only felt grateful that I knew enough to avoid it and hopefully avoid the intestinal problems I always have after eating pizza. Seriously, this was like the opposite of an eating disorder type of restriction, if that makes any sense. I wasn’t depriving myself of something I loved. I was loving myself by keeping my mind and body safe.

Anyhow, while milk may not be good for me (maybe, perhaps) the question of whether or not milk is even all that good for anyone is far from settled and if you do decide to partake you open up a whole other can of research worms. Apparently the recommendations to eat and drink only low-fat dairy products are all based on faulty research. Those of us who grew up in the ’90s are still trying to wrap our brains around the fact that eating fat does not make us fat but nowhere is that more true than with dairy. According to researchers, the most valuable vitamins in milk – like the A & D that must be added back into skim milk – are all fat soluble. So by drinking your milk skimmed you’re just peeing out all those precious vitamins that it was fortified with. The solution according to science is to eat and drink your milk in the least-processed form available which would be non-homogenized, non-pasteurized whole milk, cheese and yogurt. (Preferably hormone-free, grass-fed and – finished too, while we’re at it.) And of course, for a lot of people the decision whether or not to eat dairy is a moral one.

For now however, I’m dairy free and crossing my fingers that the panic attacks stay away. Could it really be this simple? Really??

Do you love dairy or hate it? Do you have any dietary restrictions due to health issues? If you avoid it – why? Anyone else find a link between being a highly sensitive person in general and gluten/dairy intolerance?

around the web

30 Comments

  1. Roger C. Barber

    I found this article really interesting. I don’t have any dietary problems myself fortunately. Thanks for making this available. With My Best Wishes.

  2. I’ve noticed that eating dairy makes me break out.

  3. VERY interesting article. I believe I am an HSP, too. I have recently been calmer (less anxious) than I have in a long time, and I made a mental note that I hadn’t touched cheese, milk or yogurt during that time. However, I have recently been on a cheese binge, and indulged in a little milk, and my anxiety has flared up. I probably never would have connected the two. Interestingly, I have had anxiety problems all my life, and I’ve always been a big fan of milk and cheese. Now that I’ve read this, I’m going to cut it out and see if I can reclaim the calm. Perhaps I will see if I can find some raw/goat/sheep dairy.

  4. I am a high sensitivity person and have an allergy to corn, soy, dairy, and egg. But dairy is the one that when I consume it, I not only get instant stomach discomfort, the next day and for two days after I am depressed, upset, and yes have panic attacks. Just thought I would add a comment so that you don’t feel like the only person out there. I have a lot of people in my life who don’t believe me. My husband is the only one that does but he witnesses it every time, so he would. Best of luck!

  5. Dairy has progesterone in it on account of cows being kept pregnant all their adult like to increase calf production. There is enough progesterone in most dairy to equal 30-100 percent of a medical dose. This messes with the balance of progesterone and oestrogen in your body and can lead to anxiety among other symptoms. I had a similar experience going off dairy. The calm is so worth missing out on the ice cream!

  6. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this and that’s how I came across your blog. I’m wondering – this was written a year ago. What have been the long term results of your experiment?

  7. I wish more people knew about this. My son was diagnosed with OCD and anxiety, was constantly fatigue and all these symptoms went away when he stopped having dairy. It’s been 1 1/2 years and when he can’t resist (he’s 12) and has some, he feels terrible for 2-3 days. As well, a nephew was diagnosed with ADHD and OCD, and these went away after eliminating dairy. I have as well eliminated dairy and have less anxiety, more energy and overall feel better. It’s so simple to test and no side effects. I wish more people knew about this…!

  8. I have come to the same conclusion with the help of a great naturopathic MD. 9 months ago I cut sugar dairy wheat and the nightshade family per her suggestion to eliminate anxiety, and some other GI problems. my anxiety is GONE!!!!…until I slip and eat any dairy that is. one bite of cheese and I wake up the next morning sweating, anxious and irritable. The feeling I get now when I do slip up isn’t debilitating like in the past, I think full avoidance is THE BEST. But when I do accidently slip, I am more capable of dealing with my symptoms as I know where the feelings are coming from.
    Good luck to you I am happy to see people sharing there experiences it took me 5 years to figure it all out and get on track nutritionally.
    Thank you from another former cheese lover!

  9. I’d live to know how you feel now after over a year has gone by.

  10. I have experienced the same thing. Dairy products cause my anxiety and although it’s sad, I’m glad I finally know what causes it.

  11. Anybody ever try a water fasting for a few days ?

  12. Many of the comments here have completely hit home with me. I have had anxiety problems all my life and I had always enjoyed dairy, dairy dairy…multiple times per day, every day. Once I went on a vacation where no dairy was available at the hotel we were staying in,….just so happened we were in Texas so we ate a lot of Texas beef and salads, unknowingly AVOIDING all dairy for a whole week. Felt so awesome until we came back and I went back to my dairy dairy dairy diet. This is how I found out I had the allergy. I agree with everything stated above, if I can’t resist the dairy, and eat even a small amount, I am sick with anxiety for 2 or 3 days. Benadryl helps some but not completely. During the 2 or 3 days I have this odd connection between my stomach and my brain. Thought it was my gall bladder for years, thank goodness they didn’t take it out because I’m fine with it …. just have to avoid bovine dairy completely. My life is very different, but I have found that I don’t desire the ice cream and pizza that much anymore. I think because it makes me feel so bad! NOT worth it!

  13. Have experienced the same anxiety and sweats particularly when I consume milk or ice cream. My little girl loves milk so I think I will look for one that is not processed as I think some of her behavior could be a result of her daily consumption of commercial over processed dairy.

  14. This morning I tried reintroducing milk kefir into my diet after completing a 45-day elimination protocol during which I cut out milk products (among other things) for the first time in my life. Later this afternoon I experienced strong anxiety for no apparent reason, which I used to feel on a regular basis but had not experienced since beginning the elimination diet. I wondered if perhaps there was a link, and my search brought me to this page, which has been enlightening to say the least. It had never occurred to me that milk products could trigger anxiety. I will test again in a few weeks to make sure…but am feeling (tentatively) relieved (and sad) that my anxiety can be managed by avoiding dairy.

  15. I am definitely a HSP (30 years a professional psychic), and there is no doubt that when I eat dairy I feel anxious, especially at night when I have heart palpitations as I try to go to sleep, or after sleeping for an hour or so I wake up in a body panic. I mostly have avoided gluten for many years and am sensitive to it even though I don’t test medically as celiac. I thought I was okay with sheep and goat dairy, but after experimenting over and over with elimination/cleanse diets and reintroducing foods back in am totally clear that all dairy can cause these symptoms for me. Of course, I test the theory from time to time, but feel really great when I don’t eat any at all.

  16. The article says my story from first letter to the end. I am so happy to know what was causing my gut problems, anxiety and panic attacs and I am sorry I didn’t have such important information earlier in my life.

  17. Fantastic Information, i have suffered with OCD, anxiety, panic attacks and social phobias since i was a kid. The thought has crossed my mind that maybe i should eliminate dairy, but i drink A2 milk and i have already had to eliminate so much from my diet, gluten, grains, sugar and eggs that i was grasping on tightly to the one thing i thought was okay that i enjoyed. I recently went away camping and did not have any dairy apart from the organic butter i use and after a day or two noticed i wasn’t feeling that dread in the pit of my stomach when faced with something that would usually cause anxiety (shopping centres etc), so anyway as the days went on i got stronger and more stable within myself. Got home and got stuck back into the A2 milk and within minutes all the anxiety and panic were back. So today stayed away from all dairy and i feel so strong and confident within myself its amazing, no anxiety at all and no negative thoughts. Im only too happy to give it up permanently now if it means i will continue to feel so good. Also i had been developing head tremors for past few years which worsened when i got stressed, these have disappeared too. I think there is a connection between parkinsons and gut health, well actually i know there is.

  18. Dairy caused me many problems. Canker sores, headaches, lack of energy, congestion, excess mucus, escalated into shortness of breath and heart palpitations before I realized it was dairy. It wasn’t until months later I noticed I didn’t have the anxiety I had carried with me my entire life, 40yrs about. I thought it was peace of mind that I had discovered the cause, but I know it’s more then that. I’m not wound up like a coiled snake, ready to strike all the time. I’m soooo much more easy going, and appreciate life more. Feeling blessed.

  19. I found out that milk was causing my anxiety when I was taking antibiotics and was advised to not consume any diary products 4 hours before and after taking the meds. So, I hardly ate any diary for a week and I noticed that my anxiety was nearly gone. This was 2 months ago. I decided to stop diary all together and I slowly start to enjoy life again. Knowing that milk was the source of my anxiety problems is a huge relief. I would have never believed it if someone would have told me that milk causes anxiety. My husband had an even worse reaction to diary. He became extremely tired, was dizzy and nauseas. He was staying for a week with a friend who didn’t have any diary products in his fridge, and my husband didn’t bother to buy any. He felt really great when he was there, and became ill again when he returned home. As long as he doesn’t drink milk, eat cheese etc, he’s fine. Thank you for the article :)

  20. I have suffered from anxiety all my life. I have bitten my nails for as long as I can remember. About two months ago, thinking I was being healthy, I decided to change over from Margarine to Butter. I then developed symptoms of IBS. A constant pain in the centre of my stomach, dreadful wind, bloating and constipation I recognised it as symptoms I had suffered before which I had previously believed to be a stomach bug.
    I put it down to the butter and decided I would give up dairy altogether. The changes have been amazing. I have also gone gluten free and I feel much better.
    My digestive system works much better; no more bloating or constipation which had become a normal part of my life. When I used to take a deep breathe, I would get that judder you get when you are crying. Now when I breath, my breathe is smooth and relaxed. I have stopped bighting my nails and the thought of biting them never enters my head. I don’t have those unexplained “lows” any more. Also, when I was a child, I had unexplained ear infections which resulted in me having my tonsils removed. Intolerance to dairy is a known cause of ear infections.
    So, whilst this article only confirmed what I had already discovered, it is reassuring to know there is a definite link between dairy intolerance and anxiety.

  21. I believe now that dairy is the catalyst for my anxiety. After my autoimmune disease ordeal of two years, I developed intolerances to all things artificial, corn, caffeine, alcohol, and now dairy. I am beginning to suspect that my body’s dislike of caffeine comes somewhat with the fact that I’ve always had dairy around the same time! I’m going to go dairy free for a while and report back. As of this post, I woke up after about 6 hours of sleep having eaten dairy at last night’s dinner. Driven to Google search the anxiety and dairy link by a friend at dinner, that has led me here.

    I shall report back in a week or two to unveil the experiment! I’m cutting dairy out in the strictest sense of the word.

    Cheers!

  22. I’m intolerant of dairy, too (and eggs and gluten). I cut out dairy about 3 months ago, and I feel so much better. I have noticed that when I let myself indulge in a little dairy I feel horrible the next day. My depression comes back in full force. For me, dairy-free=depression-free. So I’ll be sticking with it, even though it hurts my heart to think of spending my whole life without cheese. Ugh.

  23. I never gave the fact that foods can have tremendous impact on the body too much notion. Until now…

    I have GAD / depression since I was 17 or so (now I’m almost 40), but regarded it as something I couldn’t control and just was my fate. But due to some things I became more empowered along the way, and wanted to improve myself. And still there were these bouts of depression and anxiety.

    Today I had some yoghurt and I felt awful. Really depressed, which in my case goes hand in hand with anxiety. This time I started to connect the dots and figured I felt this way many more times in the past after having diary. Furthermore I can recollect how my body always used to struggle after having dairy. I cannot help to think that this anxiety and depression (in this case) is nothing more than a huge warning signal of the body screaming at you not to take that dairy. Now I can see that I was really feeling better in certain periods where I didn’t take any dairy products at all. Surely I will withdraw from taking it from now on.

    Great to read all the stories here, glad to see I’m not the only one!

  24. I ran across this article when trying to find if dairy can cause anxiety. About 1 1/2 years ago I started suffering debilitating anxiety. I have been to specialist, had hormones adjusted, worked on bringing cortisol levels down, managing thyroid better, etc. All theses things have helped, but still have a low level anxious feeling every day. I have been eating a great deal of Greek yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese. I think it is time to give those up and see if it takes away the rest of the anxiety. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  25. I was so excited to find your article! I’ve decided, (after coming up with enough reasons I needed to try this), to eliminate Dairy & Gluten for 30 days. This was a real real hard decision for me because I love both so very much! It’s been 7 days since I did. Last night was the 2nd night in a row that I not only went to sleep without ANY sleep aids….but I did not wake up once with an anxiety attack!!! This was HUGE for me. Normally I would wake up and then be unable to fall back to sleep and then Anxiety would sneak in like the devil and I would be unable calm my mind down or body to sleep again. That caused me to do a quick search and I found your article. If this is true….if I discover that Anxiety can be decreased or eliminated just by changing my diet then it’s done! I’m never going back! Now to research this HSP you were talking about. Thanks for sharing!

  26. I’m so glad I found this, I am week 2 on wheat free and haven’t eaten potatoe in 3 months due to stomach acid, diarrhea, eczema, anxiety to name a few… Well I have been feeling worse than ever and I’m not convinced it’s withdrawl from wheat, I have been eating a lot of cheese and yoghurt and milk lately so I think I will try not eating this for a month to see how it goes. It will be very hard because I absolutely love and crave cheese all the time! If it helps I will definitely rather not eat it! I’m wondering though does that mean no chocolate too..

  27. Incredible article!
    For the last 8 years I had common anxiety symptoms. They were relatively mild, but sometimes they were increasing just for a minute or so! I have studied medicine before and I started myself to analyze my body, because I had the strange feeling, that something is wrong with the food I eat. I paid attention, that I was becoming anxious and irritable, just 30min to 1 hour after I eat. I was sure, that I have some digestive problems, but I was not sure to what they were connected to. I went to a doctor to analyze my digestive tract and they told me that everything is fine. But clearly, to me was not fine. I was experiencing problems in my stomach, pain and then anxiety. I decided to go on a gluten free diet, but it doesn’t help…the same. I stopped the sugar…. still the same. Then I was thinking that probably the dairy products can trigger some chain reaction. Instinctively I decided to stop the dairy products, because I know, that the diary products normally cause diarrhea and stomach pain. I WAS SHOCKED! There was not a single pain in my stomach, not a single anxiety feeling or irritation. I started to see the results from the first week of my diet. I stopped all varieties of products that contain mil (chocolates, cheese, butter, yogurt, cooking cream, specific sauces and ect). I was shocked, shocked and shocked !!! After so many years, oh my god….. the MILK! This disgusting poison, that was making me feel unreal and irritated, Please avoid everything from MILK, now and forever! Please! I cant believe I feel so perfect and vital and alive! STOP THE MILK !!!!

  28. I just went vegan last year and I have never felt better. I used to get headaches every single day because i LOVED dairy products, i ate so much cheese and drank so much milk, i used to constantly be sick with the flu and colds – which is because dairy creates mucus in your body – mucus – colds./flus.
    I used to have insomnia and could not ever sleep well but since i stopped eating dairy i never get this problem any more.
    I never really ate meat but since i stopped eating dairy, i never get headaches, i feel much happier, lighter, my head is clearer and my anxiety was gone 2.
    It really is an amazing lifestyle change and one that i know from my own experience has helped me in a major way, which is why i am definitely for anyone changing to a plant based diet.
    Being a vegan helps your body, your lifestyle, the environment and of course, the animals…it is a much healthier and cleaner way to live.
    DAIRY SHOULD NOT BE A PART OF OUR DIET – LEAVE IT FOR THE ANIMALS WHERE IT BELONGS.

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