I discovered that milk was making me sick completely by accident.
I had developed asthma in adulthood, and was using a daily inhaler to manage it. The inhaler gave me a sore throat, and I hated using it. But if I didn’t, I would get severe shortness of breath. I was stuck using an asthma drug for life.
Or so I thought.
One day, I went to a café and ordered an iced coffee with milk. All it took was one sip and I had an immediate anaphylactic reaction: My throat started swelling and closing almost instantaneously.
I could feel it worsening, and with each passing second started to feel like I was suffocating. I could not breathe and had frantic thoughts that I might die.
Luckily, I was only gasping for a few seconds before the symptoms started to subside. I returned to normal almost as quickly as it had hit me.
To say I was stunned is an understatement. I stared at my iced coffee and wondered, 'what happened?' It had to be either the coffee, or the milk.
When I returned home, still shaken, I researched ‘dairy and asthma'.
Sure enough, a quick look through the medical research database PubMed revealed thousands of studies investigating the links between milk and dairy to asthma, and other allergic reactions.
I don’t know why I had never had a reaction so extreme up until that point. But, after that near-death-from-dairy experience, I was afraid to drink milk.
So, I gave it up cold turkey. For one full year, I ate no dairy: no milk, no cheese, no ice cream, no yogurt.
To my surprise, never once, for a full year, did I have to use the inhaler I carried with me all the time. Ironically, my doctor had blamed my asthma on my cat. He never told me that what I was eating or drinking might be the cause - and the cure. But when I ditched dairy, I cured myself of asthma.
After a year being dairy-free, my breathing felt so good that I started to forget I even had asthma in the first place. And I missed cheese.
So, I started eating small amounts of it: nachos or pizza when eating out, some cheese and crackers at parties. I added back other milk products, too, like ice cream and yogurt.
But my attempt to eat dairy in moderation backfired. That’s because every single time I ate a dairy food, I would get a thin layer of mucus in my throat and chest that would impair my breathing.
I noticed a dose response: If I ate small amounts of dairy, it would cause enough phlegm to trigger that clear-your-throat feeling. In larger amounts, or if I ate dairy several times in one day, the mucus it created would block my airways and I would wheeze or not be able to take a deep breath.
So, after a year of being cured of asthma, I discovered that when I started drinking milk and eating cheese and ice cream, I needed medication to help me cope. If I didn’t eat dairy, no inhaler.
If I ate it, out it came again.
Milk and dairy products had been poisoning me.
Worse, I had been dosing myself with the stuff nearly every day for probably most of my life. Looking back, I realize that I would likely still have my tonsils had I not been given milk as a child.
I had had chronic bronchitis and no one, certainly not the doctors, knew the cause. Their solution? Chop out my tonsils, when all I really needed was to stop drinking milk.
I still don’t know why it took me well into adulthood to establish the connection between dairy and my allergic symptoms.
I don’t know why I never noticed how my body responded after eating a dairy food. I think that I just got used to clearing my throat and that living in a constant inflammatory state was my ‘normal.’
I could tolerate a low-level of subclinical symptoms and so simply never connected the dots. It was only when I had what felt like a near fatal encounter with one sip of milk that I discovered that dairy could be poison.
Eventually, after ditching the dairy, then adding it back in, I stumbled across some videos where I learned about the horrific life of a dairy cow.
That’s when I dumped dairy again, only this time it wasn’t about me, or my health - it was about the suffering cows. I couldn’t bear to contribute to the pain of another simply to satisfy my taste buds. This time, I dumped dairy for good. That was around six years ago.
My only regret is not having done it sooner.
I’m most disappointed that my otherwise excellent education in the nutrition sciences somehow failed to reveal to me just how toxic milk and milk products could be.
Sure, I learned about lactose intolerance. But the solution—pushed heavily by dairy industry marketing campaigns—was always just to consume less or pop an enzyme pill like Lactaid.
The message was never that you should drop dairy altogether.
But it’s been fascinating to find out what happens when you do.
The success stories I’ve heard from people who have stopped dairy should be making front page headlines—people going off the allergy medicines they’ve taken for years, migraines stopped cold in their tracks, skin problems like acne and eczema clearing up, arthritis pain diminishing or going away completely.
The list goes on and on.
And if not on the front page, the adverse effects - and easy cures for common health conditions - caused by consuming milk should at least be at the forefront of standard nutrition textbooks.
Instead, the most popular and widely-used nutrition textbooks spout the standard dairy industry line such as: “Managing lactose intolerance requires some dietary changes, although total elimination of milk products usually is not necessary.”
Huh? If you drink milk or eat cheese, and you get gas, cramping pain or diarrhea, that’s a sign. Your body is telling you it’s not good for you. Listen! Sadly, these are the books that registered dietitians, and other health and nutrition professionals learn from.
If anything, the official dietary guidelines should not be to eat three servings of dairy per day (what the recommendations are now).
They should say to eat dairy only if absolutely necessary (although I can’t think of one instance when that might be.) All the nutrients that dairy might provide can be obtained from other foods.
Sadly though, the need to push for profits in the dairy industry seems to have infiltrated many of the health associations enough so that they push the product, rather than warn of its potential adverse effects.
The dairy industry seems to have even bought a prime piece of real estate from the US government on the dietary guidelines nutrition tool, MyPlate.
For those not familiar with this graphic, it replaced the previous Food Guide Pyramid and is meant to illustrate in a practical way, how people should eat.
It demonstrates what should be on their plate in order to meet nutrition needs.
And just like a game of One of these things just doesn’t belong, dairy is featured as its own separate food group. Since dairy is meant for baby cows, not baby humans, or even adult humans, this is a curious placement.
Why is dairy highlighted? If it’s because of its calcium, well all the other food groups contain calcium, too, so why aren’t any other foods that contain calcium singled out?
And if it’s because dairy contains protein, then why is it not subsumed in the protein section? There is simply no valid reason why dairy should be encouraged, much less highlighted, on a nutrition eating guide.
Now that I know what I do about the physiological aspects of consuming dairy, and I’ve encountered people who have cured their migraines, acne, asthma, allergies, and even arthritis pain when they stopped consuming milk and milk products, I’ve come to suspect that a large percentage of the population are living with chronic illness from eating dairy.
The chronic symptoms they experience, like allergies, are blamed on other triggers. So they continue eating dairy daily, most likely without even realizing that is likely causing them to feel bad.
There are several reasons why milk doesn’t do a body good.
It could be due to reactions to the dairy proteins like casein and whey, or to some of the other components.
Regardless, research has shown that milk and dairy products have been linked to allergies, skin conditions such as acne, headaches and migraines, arthritis, and congestion or shortness of breath and asthma, as well as gas, tummy aches, diarrhea or bloating from difficulty digesting the lactose.
What I, like so many others, appear to be allergic to is the proteins - the casein or the whey - in milk products.
If that’s the case, it doesn’t matter if you are drinking two per cent or skim, or if the milk is free-range, hormone-free or organic, or whether it’s raw or pasteurized.
It’s the bovine mammary fluid itself, the components that make up the milk, that can cause allergic reactions. Of course, the allergic response is a completely different reaction than what a majority of the world’s population experiences, which is lactose intolerance, or an inability to digest the milk sugar, lactose sufficiently.
The fact that the human body can reject cow’s milk in several different ways seems telling.
Sure, some bodies seem to be able to handle it - unless, of course, these same bodies are experiencing symptoms of the body’s dairy rejection and they simply haven’t made the connection yet.
And the majority of the world’s population do experience some adverse effects.
Of course, the marketing folks from the dairy industry, and those who haven’t been trained otherwise don’t think that, even though your body is shouting at you to avoid the stuff, that you should listen.
Their tactic is to convince you to eat smaller amounts, or to experiment with different dairy foods, because one type might make you less sick than others.
Or, failing that, buy a processed enzyme to eat along with your dairy so that your body can handle it.
Huh? How about just heeding your body’s warning signals: dump the dairy from your diet, and choose plant milks and plant-based cheeses, yogurts, butters and ice creams instead?
Dr. Heaner, a editorial and health consultant to PlantBased News, is an adjunct associate nutrition professor at Hunter College in New York City. She has masters degrees and a doctorate in nutrition and exercise physiology from Columbia University and is the author of eight books including Cross-training for Dummies. She has been an editor for publications like Glamour, GQ and Fitness and has been a long-time health writer for publications including in the US, the New York Times, the New York Post, Shape, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Health, and others, and in the UK, The Times of London, The Daily Mirror, The Financial Times, Zest, GQ, Men’s Health and others. You can follow her on Twitter @DrMartica and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Martica-Heaner-PhD-264121607393/
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself.
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