The Problem with Dairy for PCOS
If you have been following PCOS Diva for a while, then you know that I advocate a low dairy or dairy-free lifestyle. You can read my post about dairy here. I have invited Dr. Lara Briden to share more information about casomorphins and dairy. I hear from many PCOS Divas who are “addicted to cheese.” They can give up the milk and ice cream but, cheese is so alluring. I think you will find this information fascinating. Now you’ll know why it is so difficult to give up cheese.
Guest Post by Dr. Lara Briden, ND
For some of you, dairy is inflammatory, and a big problem for PCOS. For a lucky few of you, organic dairy is probably OK.
The problem with dairy is not the lactose, or the fat. The problem is a protein called A1 casein. When A1 casein hits your digestion, a part of it breaks off to become casomorphin or BCM7. Casomorphin is an opiate, just like morphine is an opiate, or codeine. Casomorphin is a drug, which is why it causes brain-fog in some people, and why so many people crave dairy.
There’s more to casomorphin than its sedative effect. Casomorphin also causes inflammation, and inflammation is exactly what you don’t want when you have PCOS. Inflammation impairs insulin sensitivity, and damages the hormone-signalling of ovulation. Inflammation also makes hormone receptors overly sensitive to androgens like testosterone.
Here is where it gets interesting. Some people digest and excrete casomorphin before it enters their blood stream. Those lucky people don’t suffer the inflammation of casomorphin, and can enjoy organic dairy as a healthy food. The rest of us need to get casomorphin out of our diet.
How do you know if casomorphin is a problem for you?
In theory, you could test BCM7 in your urine, but – as of yet- that test is not widely available. Another way to detect a casomorphin problem is to look for symptom clues:
- Did you suffer recurring tonsillitis or ear infections when you were a kid?
- Do you suffer chronic hayfever or sinus now?
- Do you crave dairy?
If you answered yes to any or all of these problems, then you probably have a casomorphin problem.
Not all cows produce A1 Casein
A1 casein is present in the milk from Holstein cows, which are the predominant dairy herds in USA, Canada, Australia, and the UK. A different type of casein – called A2 casein – does not form casomorphin BCM7, and does not cause inflammation. The milks of Jersey cows, goats and sheep, are predominantly A2, and are fine for most people. Cheeses like Ricotta are ok, because they are mostly whey protein. Butter is Ok because it is mostly fat.
I switch many (not all) of my PCOS patients to Jersey, goat or sheep dairy, and they do very well. The first thing to improve is their acne, usually within a few weeks.
Other PCOS symptoms also improve off A1 dairy, but they take a little longer, usually 3-4 months. In fact, any good treatment for PCOS takes 3-4 months because that is how long it takes for a follicle to develop all the way to ovulation. It’s a 100 day journey to ovulation, and the journey cannot start until inflammation ends.
Anti-Inflammatory approach for PCOS
After 18 years of treating PCOS, I am convinced that inflammation is the major underlying cause for many types of PCOS. It is not the cause for every type. Some types of PCOS are caused by post-Pill syndrome. Some types are caused by leptin or a thyroid problem. In my clinic, I use blood tests to differentiate types of PCOS, and inflammation is one of the things that I measure.
Going forward with an anti-inflammatory approach, it is important to understand that A1 casein is just one source of inflammation. Inflammation also comes from gluten, sugar, environmental toxins, and intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Intestinal permeability is usually the result of antibiotics and/or the birth control pill.
Lara Briden is a Naturopathic Doctor with a busy women’s health practice in Sydney, Australia. She has a strong science background, and worked as an evolutionary biologist before qualifying as a Naturopathic Doctor from Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto in 1997.
Over the last 2 decades, thousands of women have entrusted Lara with their thyroid disease, PCOS and other hormonal conditions. She is incredibly grateful for that clinical experience because it has taught her which natural treatments actually work for PCOS and other hormonal conditions.
Lara is passionate about helping women to reclaim their hormonal health. She blogs her ‘Search for Truth in Natural Medicine’ at Lara Briden’s Healthy Hormone Blog (http://www.larabriden.com/). Her new book Period Repair Manual is now available. Lara lives in Sydney with her husband and stepdaughter.
Just wanted to say thanks so much for posting this article.
I have been having problems with inflammation, and have tried unsuccessfully to eliminate gluten and dairy from my diet as per my Naturopath’s instructions. (She had me on the blood type diet).
This was something I really struggled with, and after a while I gave up. Now I am working on eliminating most gluten, gradually trying to get back to none. My next step is dairy, and that is the hardest for me, because I love dairy! I am sensitive to Casein, and had no idea about the A2 products until I read this article. I feel a little bit hopeful now that I know there are other options for me to try, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.
So glad you found this helpful Ashleigh!
I am not clear what inflamation is . Can any one help. Is it acidity ?
Here is a nice article to explain inflammation http://www.marksdailyapple.com/what-is-inflammation/#axzz33D5ayeBV
I am so greatful because this article is helping to make so many things make sense. I had my thyroid removed at age 11 and diagnosed with PCOS at 25. I can’t wait to understand this more. I have a long way to go but if it wasn’t for you sharing this I don’t think I would have much hope for recovery. Thank you 1000 times over
Would things like dairy free cheese be ok? Is yogurt also bad for us?
As long as the dairy free cheese isn’t soy based. Daiya is a good choice. A little bit of organic yogurt may be okay if you can tolerate it. Coconut Milk yogurt is also a good choice. Look for the varieties that have the least amount of sugar.
Thank you so much for this article. I have had inflammation for years and know that I must eliminate caffeine, alcohol, sugar, wheat and based on your article dairy. Looks like lean meats and veggies are the way to go!
Some women can tolerate gluten-free grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa
What is the best way to find out what dairy products are from Jersey cows?
The only way to know for certain is to buy directly from the local farmer. If you have PCOS, you may want to avoid dairy in general.
Is this true for children too? I know a 2yo whose mother gives him milk even when he’s sick with a stomach bug, cold, or whatever. And he’s sick nearly constantly since birth. He would get 2 ear infections a month before they put tubes in his ears. Now, he is constantly fighting a fever. And I avoid dairy for inflammation/PCOS purposes (as well as sugar, grain, etc – all things this kid eats in excess), but … she doesn’t believe dairy has anything to do with his sicknesses. So, I know this is not a PCOS question, but … can this be true for children or non-PCOSers too?
Absolutely. You should forward this article to her. It is worth eliminating it for a period of time to see how his body reacts. She will probably be pleasantly surprised.
This is unrelated to dairy (in a way), but I was wondering if you could explain a bit more about “post-pill syndrome” PCOS diagnoses? I believe it’s possible this is where my diagnosis comes from, as I show no other traditional symptoms. I’ve searched your site, but haven’t found any info on this. Thanks in advance!
Me too. I really need to know how to go about with treatments also.
Yes, there are some experts that believe there is a pill-induced version of PCOS. I will look into writing an article about this topic in the near future.
Yes please do, only pcos symptoms I have is irregular periods and cystic ovaries!
Does the issue with A1 casein exist if you use non-dairy alternatives like almond or coconut milk, or is that not a compound/chemical found in these alternatives?
There is no casein in nut milks – it is a dairy protein.
Ah, okay! Thank you so much for that feedback.
Wait so she isn’t an actual doctor with a phd? Hmm.
Wow. I breast fed my daughter for 2 years, she was colicky. I gave up all cow dairy and it was much better. Had goat milk. I thought her reaction went away at about a year, when they say their digestion matures. But maybe it never did….
Very interesting! I answered YES to your three questions and I have PCOS… lately I’m trying to change my diet to get better. I’ve eliminated gluten, soy, reduced sugar to minimum. I mistakenly thought that the problem with dairy was the lactose so I was eating lactose-free products… but now I find out that is actually Casein A1 so I have to do a step back. Do you think is enough to switch from cow to goat yogurts and goat or sheep cheeses? I find difficult to eliminate all the dairy, especially at breakfast!
I also have another question: I’ve never had weight problems so my doctor didn’t want me to do insulin tests…should I insist?
Thank you so much for the information! Does switching to goat or sheep milk and cheese make a big difference or is i best to avoid dairy all together?
Shay – you should see what works best for your body. Experiment!
So, since it is the casein that is an issue, using whey protein should be ok for a dairy free pcos diet?
Where can you even buy Jersey milk??
look for promised land milk in the grocery, it only comes from Jersey cows and you can taste the difference
You are the best
whats your favorite alternative form of milk? i love milk and crave it all the time so for me to give it up i would NEED some type of alternative. I was enjoying almond milk for a while but i read up on how many gallons of water it takes to actually grow almonds and how many other unknown ingredients are in the stuff at the grocery store and im just not so comfortable with that.