The Dairy Dilemma: The Latest Research on Milk, Mood and Inflammation [Is dairy causing my panic attacks?] (2023)

The Dairy Dilemma: The Latest Research on Milk, Mood and Inflammation [Is dairy causing my panic attacks?] (1)

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.”

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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.

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The Dairy Dilemma: The Latest Research on Milk, Mood and Inflammation [Is dairy causing my panic attacks?] (2)

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.

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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.

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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?


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How does dairy cause inflammation in the body? ›

Why all the talk about dairy being inflammatory? It may stem from the fact that the main fat found in milk is saturated fat, and diets high in saturated fat can increase inflammation.

Is there a link between dairy and anxiety? ›

No correlations were found between anxiety and unfermented dairy products. The results indicate that the consumption of fermented dairy products has a positive effect on reducing anxiety in young Azorean university students.

How does dairy affect your mental health? ›

Mood Swings

There are some people who feel depressed, irritable or anxious after eating foods containing dairy, and it can be a sign that they are actually sensitive to dairy. According to medical experts, the impact of dairy to the mood is more pronounced in children who are sensitive to dairy.

Is inflammation caused by dairy? ›

Unless you have a milk allergy, research suggests that dairy is not the root cause of low-grade inflammation in the body. In fact, consuming foods like yogurt may actually help to reduce inflammation.

Do eggs cause inflammation like dairy? ›

Consuming eggs regularly can lead to an increased amount of swelling and joint pain. The yolks contain arachidonic acid, which helps trigger inflammation in the body. Eggs also contain saturated fat which can also induce joint pain.

How do I know if dairy is inflammatory for me? ›

If you notice bloating, changes in bowel movements, or any other type of digestive upset after eating dairy, this could be a red flag that dairy causes inflammation for you. Then, note other symptoms, like increased mucus production.

What foods should I avoid if I have anxiety? ›

If you're feeling stressed, try to avoid these foods:
  • Alcohol.
  • Caffeine.
  • Sugary drinks and foods.
  • Processed foods, such as chips, cookies, frozen foods and ready-made meals.
  • Foods high in trans fats and excessive saturated fats, such as fried foods, red meat, full-fat dairy, butter and baked goods.
Sep 21, 2021

What foods should you avoid if you have anxiety? ›

If you eat lots of processed meat, fried food, refined cereals, candy, pastries, and high-fat dairy products, you're more likely to be anxious and depressed. A diet full of whole fiber-rich grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish can help keep you on a more even keel.

Are eggs good for mental health? ›

Eggs offer a host of healthy nutrients. As far as brain health goes, egg yolks are a good source of choline, which is associated with reducing inflammation and promoting brain function, like maintaining memory and communications between brain cells.

Why you should stop eating most dairy? ›

Milk and other dairy products are the top source of saturated fat in the American diet, contributing to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. Studies have also linked dairy to an increased risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

Is giving up dairy good for you? ›

Cutting dairy out of your diet can have several health benefits, such as improving digestion and reducing stomach pain and bloating. However, dairy products contain several nutrients that are beneficial for your health.

Why is it good to stop eating dairy? ›

Dairy is among the foods to avoid if you have or you're at risk for Candida overgrowth. Dairy has been shown to cause inflammation , which may promote the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria linked to some chronic diseases or conditions including leaky gut.

How do you stop dairy inflammation? ›

Overeating full-fat dairy or sugar-sweetened dairy can contribute to weight gain – and obesity itself is associated with chronic inflammation. “Controlling weight is important in terms of reducing inflammation,” she says. Sticking to low-fat dairy choices can help control weight and help reduce inflammation.

How long does it take to detox from dairy? ›

It takes up to three weeks for dairy to fully leave your system after you stop eating it. You may see results in just a few days, or it may take the full three weeks until your system is clean. Either way, you're looking at a healthier you!

Is almond milk good for inflammation? ›

Almond milk is an excellent source of vitamin E, naturally containing 22% of the recommended daily vitamin E requirement in a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion ( 2 ). Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that may combat inflammation and stress in your body ( 10 ).

Does oatmeal cause inflammation? ›

Oatmeal has anti-Inflammatory properties.

Oats boast 24 phenolic compounds — plant compounds that have antioxidant properties. One antioxidant group called avenanthramides are found almost exclusively in oats and help reduce inflammation and protect against coronary heart disease.

Does coffee cause inflammation? ›

While all coffee contains anti-inflammatory properties, whether or not it affects the inflammatory response can depend on the concentration of caffeine, how your body reacts to it, your genetics, and your age. Some evidence suggests that coffee may increase inflammation in some people.

Do potatoes cause inflammation? ›

Nightshade vegetables, such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants, contain solanine. This substance may increase the leakiness of the intestines and affect the gastrointestinal microbiota, indirectly increasing the inflammation relating to arthritis.

Which dairy is most inflammatory? ›

Whole milk and full fat dairy products are thought to cause inflammation because they contain saturated fats, have been implicated in the development of acne, and may cause bloating and stomach upset in people who are lactose intolerant.

What cheese doesn't cause inflammation? ›

Or, consider switching to Swiss cheese; one study found the probiotics in this variety could decrease inflammation.

What kind of yogurt is best for anti-inflammatory? ›

Another study, published in Nutrients, found that yogurt consumption was associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers, and as the study authors note, “may be an important part of a healthy diet, designed to mitigate systemic inflammation.” Cohen recommends plain Greek yogurt, which has more protein than other ...

What vitamins help with anxiety and panic attacks? ›

Vitamin B Complex

The eight B vitamins, particularly B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12, are essential for the proper function of the nervous system and can help to calm the nerves and reduce mental stress and fatigue. For these reasons, they are often referred to as anti-stress nutrients.

What breakfast is good for anxiety? ›

Carbohydrates are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains — for example, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain breads and whole-grain cereals.

Is Peanut Butter good for anxiety? ›

This 6-month trial in young, healthy adults found that daily consumption of roasted peanuts or peanut butter improved depression and anxiety scores and that peanut butter enhanced memory functions. This Study Summary was published on November 2, 2021.

What fruit is good for anxiety? ›

Blueberries. When we're anxious and stressed, our bodies crave vitamin C to help repair and protect our cells, and blueberries are packed full of it. Small but mighty, blueberries are bursting with antioxidants and vitamin C which have been shown to provide anxiety relief.

What foods calm the nervous system? ›

Good sources of these vitamins include citrus fruits, berries, dark chocolate and herbal teas such as lavender or chamomile (avoid teas with caffeine). For the B vitamins in particular, choose whole grains and nuts.

Which vegetable is good for anxiety? ›

Vegetables: Artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli. Spices with both antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties include turmeric (containing the active ingredient curcumin) and ginger.

What are the 3 foods that fight memory loss? ›

What are the foods that fight memory loss? Berries, fish, and leafy green vegetables are 3 of the best foods that fight memory loss. There's a mountain of evidence showing they support and protect brain health.

Which fruit is best for brain? ›

Certain fruits such as oranges, bell peppers, guava, kiwi, tomatoes, and strawberries, contain high amounts of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps prevent brain cells from becoming damaged and supports overall brain health. In fact, a study found that vitamin C can potentially prevent Alzheimer's.

Is Sweet potato good for anxiety? ›

Great for Stress Relief

Sweet potatoes contain high amounts of magnesium, often considered to be one of the best minerals for promoting relaxation, calmness and improved mood. As we already know, they are also rich in potassium, which helps regulate your heart beat when you are anxious or stressed.

Does your body really need dairy? ›

Remember that milk and dairy foods are good sources of important nutrients, so do not cut them out of your or your child's diet without first speaking to a GP or dietitian. If you're not able to, or choose not to, eat dairy products, you may not be getting enough calcium in your diet.

Do you really need dairy? ›

The bottom line is no, dairy products are not a nutritional requirement for humans. We can get all of the nutrients for optimal health from a high-quality diet that limits or contains no dairy.

Are eggs considered dairy? ›

The confusion could also come from the use of similar terminology - dairy product and animal by-product. But, contrary to these common misconceptions, eggs are NOT a dairy product. While eggs are indeed produced by animals and therefore by definition an animal by-product, they are not a derivative of dairy products.

Does mayonnaise have dairy in it? ›

Mayo is a permanent emulsion. The lecithin in egg yolk is an effective emulsifier that keeps it together. Dairy refers to products that are made from the milk of other mammals, such as cows, sheep, and goats. Mayonnaise doesn't have any milk products in it, so that means it doesn't have dairy.

What are the 10 most inflammatory foods? ›

What foods cause inflammation?
  • Red meat and processed meats, including bacon, hot dogs, lunch meats and cured meats.
  • Refined grains, including white bread, white rice, pasta and breakfast cereals.
  • Snack foods, including chips, cookies, crackers and pastries.
  • Sodas and other sweetened drinks.
  • Fried foods.
Jun 29, 2022

How can I reverse my dairy sensitivity? ›

  1. Limit milk and other dairy products.
  2. Include small servings of dairy products in your regular meals.
  3. Eat and drink lactose-reduced ice cream and milk.
  4. Add a liquid or powder lactase enzyme to milk to break down the lactose.
Mar 5, 2022

Does yogurt increase inflammation? ›

Overall, our study compared the separate impacts of three types of dairy foods on chronic inflammation and found that only yogurt intake was linked with lower levels of chronic inflammation.

How do I cut dairy out of my life? ›

So below I'll share tips on how to reduce your dairy intake or even cut it out completely from your diet.

Can you completely cut dairy out of your diet? ›

Cutting out dairy can result in weight loss but it might not be permanent. You may also get sick more often and because you're lacking vitamins like calcium.

Do Tums help lactose intolerance pain? ›

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines may help ease the discomfort of lactose intolerance. However, it is important to stop consuming lactose to prevent the symptoms from persisting. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen may relieve abdominal pain and discomfort.

Are bananas good for inflammation? ›

Bananas are versatile fruits with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties that can help counteract inflammation and support the body's immune system. People may benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding pro-inflammatory foods.

What milk alternative is best for inflammation? ›

Flax milk is a great nondairy option if you're looking for an anti-inflammatory boost, says Staci Small, a registered dietitian based in Indiana. The milk is made with flax oil, which is rich in an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

What can I drink to reduce inflammation? ›

Orange, tomato, pineapple and carrot juices are all high in the antioxidant, vitamin C, which can neutralize free radicals that lead to inflammation. Tart cherry juice has been shown to protect against gout flares and reduce OA symptoms.

What dairy products are least inflammatory? ›

Based on the body of science, dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese do not cause inflammation and can be a part of anti-inflammatory diets.

What is the main cause of inflammation in the body? ›

The most common reasons for chronic inflammation include: Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, where your body attacks healthy tissue. Exposure to toxins, like pollution or industrial chemicals. Untreated acute inflammation, such as from an infection or injury.

How long does it take to get rid of dairy in your system? ›

It can take up to 21 days for all traces of cow's milk protein to leave your system so it's best to wait for two to three weeks to evaluate the results.

Why does gluten and dairy cause inflammation? ›

Your body breaks down white bread, pasta, rice and potatoes into glucose even faster than table sugar, says Sears. This increases your insulin levels and creates an environment for inflammation to thrive. Stick to whole grains, which might actually lower your body's inflammatory response.

What milk is best for inflammation? ›

Move over almond milk. Flax milk is a great nondairy option if you're looking for an anti-inflammatory boost, says Staci Small, a registered dietitian based in Indiana. The milk is made with flax oil, which is rich in an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Which dairy products are most inflammatory? ›

Whole milk and full fat dairy products are thought to cause inflammation because they contain saturated fats, have been implicated in the development of acne, and may cause bloating and stomach upset in people who are lactose intolerant.

Does Tylenol help with inflammation? ›

The bottom line. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is not an anti-inflammatory or NSAID. It relieves minor aches and pains, but doesn't reduce swelling or inflammation. Compared to NSAIDs, Tylenol is less likely to increase blood pressure or cause stomach bleeding.

What naturally reduces inflammation? ›

Load up on anti-inflammatory foods

Some of the best sources of omega-3s are cold water fish, such as salmon and tuna, and tofu, walnuts, flax seeds and soybeans. Other anti-inflammatory foods include grapes, celery, blueberries, garlic, olive oil, tea and some spices (ginger, rosemary and turmeric).

What happens if you have too much inflammation in your body? ›

Left unaddressed, chronic inflammation can damage healthy cells, tissues and organs, and may cause internal scarring, tissue death and damage to the DNA in previously healthy cells. Ultimately, this can lead to the development of potentially disabling or life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer or Type-2 diabetes.

What happens when you detox from dairy? ›

You might get withdrawal symptoms.

Although the side-effects may not last long, Harju-Westman says people who cut dairy out cold-turkey "may find that [they] are more tired than normal and may even have trouble sleeping." Don't give up on it quickly if you begin to feel these things.

Does eliminating gluten help inflammation? ›

For most people, gluten does not cause inflammation and there is no need to avoid it. Many gluten-containing foods should be eaten as part of a healthy diet and may reduce inflammation in the body.

How do you flush dairy and gluten out of your system? ›

Drink plenty of water

Water is one of the best things we can ingest to flush out our digestive tract and keep it working optimally. And, if you struggle with constipation, it can help moisten stool so that it passes more easily and quickens elimination.


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