It happened again just last month; I was advised by another scleroderma patient in a most assertive and authoritative manner that I could not eat any dairy because it “was inflammatory”. She followed up with a lecture on how cow milk is not appropriate for humans, and that most people were lactose intolerant because it wasn’t good for us once we become adults. In her defense, there are numerous sources on the internet that argue that dairy is inflammatory (like this one, and this one), and many people accept this as common knowledge.
I get it. We are all in the grips of a chronic disease that refuses to behave itself, and we all want regain some control through our diets. I just have trouble accepting these blanket arguments without working the problem first. Hello, Science Girl! Here’s a little unpacking of the inflammatory dairy argument:
- Inflammation: for me, the easiest way to think of this is the heat, redness, swelling and pain that is associated with trauma or irritation. It’s your body’s first level response to a possible invader; the local temperature is raised, fluid moves into tissue to allow defensive white blood cells to move around, and signals are sent out to activate other parts of the immune system. One of these signals is C-reactive protein, which can be measured in blood. Mine gets measured every month.
- Cow milk: cow milk is inappropriate? What?! Does that mean I can’t eat chicken eggs, or even bananas for that matter? Moving on…
- Lactose: this is a disaccharide, a two-unit sugar made from the simple sugars glucose and galactose. In our digestive system we need to use the enzyme lactase (made in the lining of your small intestine) to break the two units of lactose apart so that the single sugar units (glucose and galactose) can be absorbed. Lactose itself is too big to be absorbed.
- Lactose intolerance: if your body no longer produces the enzyme lactase that lactose ends up in your large intestines where it is food for the bacteria that live there. Yep! Bacteria party time! The byproducts that they produce as they grow cause the unhappy inflammatory outcomes (gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea) that all lactose intolerant people know only too well.
- Allergies: if you are allergic to casein, found in milks, then you need to avoid dairy as it will be an inflammatory agent for sure!
So, here is the take home lesson from my unpacking: if you are allergic to milk or have lactose intolerance, then consuming dairy products will make you sick… they are inflammatory. Cool. I get it. What if you are lactose intolerant though… can’t you just avoid the lactose and keep the dairy? Armed with my food log, more curiosity than is probably good for me, and a tendency to use myself as a one person experimental animal, I kept looking for safe food to eat.
I have to be frank here. My intestinal woes are so bad that I have developed a fraught relationship with the refrigerator. Seriously, I open the door, look inside, and view the contents with a jaded eye as I ask myself: what can I eat in here that won’t make me sick? I keep a food log, and anything that makes me sick more than once gets tossed. I throw out lots of food. I have also discovered that there are some foods that are the safest to fall back on when I’m struggling.
Dairy. No matter how bad things are, I can rely on yogurt and cheese, along with a few other mainstays, to get me through a rough patch and stable again.
Here’s the trick: I choose my dairy very carefully. My milk is the kind that has the lactose removed. I only eat yogurt that has live cultures in it; they already snacked on the lactose and it’s gone before I eat it!
I read a lot of labels these days as I shop, and slowly I have discovered products that are safe and reliable. There is a sour cream with cultures that is safe. There is a safe cottage cheese. I haven’t found safe ice cream, but I’m still on the hunt. It’s best to stick to natural products, but even that isn’t good enough.
For me, always on the hunt for food that I can eat, dairy is my fall back safe zone. It will get me through a bad time, and if I eat yogurt every day I actually seem to improve. My C-reactive protein level drops. It’s almost like dairy is anti-inflammatory…
There are now numerous studies that show that dairy is anti-inflammatory. This review of clinical evidence showed that dairy reduced inflammation in individuals without a milk allergy, and here is another presentation arguing that dairy is anti-inflammatory. Check out the references!
So I told this woman that I had discovered that I needed to eat yogurt every day or I would run into trouble. Her response? You can’t eat that type of yogurt… it has sugar!! Sugar is inflammatory!
12 thoughts on “Science and the Scleroderma Girl: The Dairy Rant”
Both of my children are lactose intolerant. Each can eat a little (like one small serving) but if they pass their threshold watch out! They both like Lactaid ice cream. Would that work for you? My daughter said the chocolate is really good.
I went to the grocery store after reading your comment and lo and behold… there was Lactaid ice cream there along with several other non-dairy options. It looks like they added a new section. I brought home some of the Lactaid and some coconut milk ice cream. Thanks for the tip!
I am lactose intolerant too. It makes my allergies worse. We are talking head and upper chest snot factory! I’ve noticed that since I’ve stopped eating dairy products and most gluten that my allergies have improved but that I’ve developed an uncomfortable bloated stomach. I’m wondering if adding yogurt back into my diet would help. I used to eat a lot of it. Would you care to share which kinds of yogurt work best for you?
Wow, that stuff was really messing with you, wasn’t it! I really love the way keeping a food log helps figure things out.
I live in Colorado where we have noosa yogurt, but my son pretty much depends on the liquid Chobani yogurt. The big thing that I watch for is that it has live cultures, and that there are several in the yogurt ( I think that noosa has 5 active cultures.) I also go ahead and eat yogurt that has the full fat and some sugar as it my main source of good and I want some carbs and fat with the protein.
I have struggled with stomach pain and a sense of having a rock in my middle… it was another condition called gastroparesis that hugely improved when I cut out things that were difficult to digest (think cabbage and lots of fiber…) and started the daily yogurt.
Hope the yogurt helps. Keep a record of your symptoms and experiment away! 🙂
oh………unsolicited advice, it’s the best! You know your body and you need to do what is best for you, plan and simple. I am allergic to dairy so eating it does make me ill but I so wish for a grilled cheese every now and then……….the fake “cheese” is too bad to consume.
You exactly nailed it. It was totally unsolicited and actually insistent that I accept her opinion over my own experience and observations. Kind of a power move from someone who is a fellow patient with her own struggles. I would never pull that on someone else.
I long for corn, sauerkraut and pizza… how unkind of our immune systems and bodies to mess with our eating habits this way!
You are so right……….just to eat whatever the heck we want for a week……..with no consequences!
Wow, Science Girl, so much reading! Lucky your background is science and research. It has helped you manage you disease in a very appropriately. You, rock!!!!!
I am a lucky, lucky girl in that my life prepared me well to handle this. If I had majored in History or English I would be toast for sure!
Fascinating! Thank you for this super informative post!!
You’re welcome. Yogurt on!