How Dairy Might Be Messing With Your Health

by Isadora Baum, CHC

Cheese. An American favorite. However, sometimes cheese doesn't sit well in your stomach, and it can cause poor reactions in people who are prone to an intolerance or sensitivity. Looking for signs that dairy is hurting your health and taking action steps to eliminate it from the diet can improve your health and wellbeing and make you feel more comfortable in the day. Before giving up your cheesy friend, consider how it affects you and your digestion. Yet, if you think you could benefit from removing it from the diet, it's worth finding non-dairy alternatives to your favorite foods.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on figuring out which foods uplift them and provide energy, or make them fatigued and bloated. When you have conditions of the latter, it's possible that dairy is the culprit, as stomach pains, poor digestion, bloating, and lack of energy are common symptoms for a dairy intolerance or sensitivity. If you try an elimination diet to see how your body runs on a dairy-free lifestyle, you might be surprised to find tremendous benefits. Here are 11 ways that going dairy-free can actually be better for your health and happiness.

1. Low Energy

Over email with Bustle, certified holistic health coach and personal trainer, Jen Bruno, with J.B Fitness & Nutrition, explains that dairy can cause fatigue in some people who are more sensitive to the substance. If you notice your energy levels sagging after a grilled cheese or yogurt, it's worth eating dairy-free the next day to compare stamina.

2. Irregular Bowels

Bruno says that having poor digestion and abnormal bowel movements, such diarrhea, constipation, painful stools, and black or discolored stools, can come from eating a diet that's heavy in dairy products amongst those with a sensitivity. By skipping dairy, you might experience more consistent and pleasant bowel movements in the day.

3. Diarrhea

"People with lactose intolerance commonly have diarrhea upon consumption of dairy, since milk products contain lots of lactose," advise Dr. Charles Galanis, a Board Certified Surgeon in Beverly Hills and Robert Dorfman, Research Fellow at Northwestern Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, over email with Bustle. "If there is a decreased function of the lactase enzyme, then lactose will remain in the small bowel instead of being broken down and absorbed. Lactose is osmotically active, meaning that it will draw water towards it into the small bowel, and that will create diarrhea," Galanis and Dorfman explain.

4. Bloating

Galanis and Dorfman explain that "abdominal distention" is common when someone with a dairy sensitivity eats a slice of cheese pizza. Having dairy when your system can't tolerate it will lead to bloating and abdominal discomfort, Dorfman and Galanis advise. Avoid such triggers for a smoother digestion.

5. Poor Heart Health

“The American Heart Association claims that foods high in cholesterol, including dairy products like milk and cheese, can trigger inflammation and cause heart disease," advises Andre Kroecher, co-founder of Daiya Foods over email with Bustle. "If you are experiencing inflammation, it may be time to ditch the dairy and opt for more plant-based alternatives, like dairy-free cheese and almond milk, that are free from cholesterol. Plant-based foods are known for reversing these effects as well as aiding your immune system and reducing risk of heart disease,” explains Kroecher.

6. Inflammation

Inflammation can put you at higher risk for various diseases and it can make you even more stressed, which is obviously never a good thing (you're probably stressed enough as is). Kroecher explains, “If you’re struggling with inflammation and bloating, there’s a good chance that dairy could be causing your discomfort." Inflammation can be seen through puffiness and swelling, but it also acts internally on your organs, leading to less efficiency.

7. Recurring Sickness

If you have a health condition, such as a dairy allergy or IBS, advises Natalie Stephens RDN, LD at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, over email with Bustle, then eliminating dairy could be incredibly beneficial. The one caveat: Stephens warns against "risk for osteoporosis, osteopenia, dental caries and fractures" and recommends getting good quality calcium and monitoring bone density over time with a physician.

8. Poor Skin

Sometimes dairy can lead to acne and rashes in people with an intolerance or sensitivity, and this can also lower self-esteem, if you are insecure about your skin's appearance. "Skin irritations such as acne and eczema" are common explains Diane Sanfilippo, Certified Nutrition Consultant and bestselling author of Practical Paleo over email with Bustle. Cutting out dairy could lead to glowing, fresher skin.

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9. Migraines

Sanfilippo also warns against migraines and headaches, as two symptoms of a poor reaction to dairy products. If you notice that you're getting pounding headaches regularly, it's worth "eliminating all dairy for 14 days, then reintroducing it and tracking what you feel," says Sanfilippo. No one likes a migraine at work, so this could definitely be a life saver.

10. Seasonal Allergies

Sanfilippo says that people who are prone to seasonal allergies might experience worsened symptoms after eating dairy, as it can lead to a lower immune system and poor digestive health. Since "about 80 percent of our immune system is in our gut," Sanfilippo says, eating foods that create an imbalance can lower immunity and trigger allergy reactions.

11. Family History Of Cancer

According to several studies looking at both women and men and risks of breast and prostate cancer, respectively, cutting out dairy can lower risk of cancer. This data could be especially beneficial if there's a higher risk of cancer that runs in your family. Check with a physician and discuss whether eliminating dairy is the right move for you and your history.

While getting rid of dairy isn't the best option for everyone, as some people tolerate late-night pizza and cheesy omelets just fine, it's worth addressing the benefits of removing dairy foods from the diet. If you're sensitive, it'll make a huge difference in your health and wellbeing, and many alternatives are actually pretty delicious.

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