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Is dairy right for you?

I get asked about dairy consumption often and along with wheat and gluten, it is one of the most common contributors to a wide range of health issues that I see in my clinic. I’m from Gippsland which is one of best dairy producing regions in the world and I have great respect for the hard working dairy farmers (and an even greater respect for the cows!) so this blog is not anti-dairy in any way. The fact is some people are able to consume dairy without a problem while in other people it can cause a wide range of health issues.

Let’s have a closer look at some of the reasons why dairy consumption may not be the best thing for some people.

Contrary to current popular dietary trends, high fat diets are not appropriate for everybody. Some people simply lack the ability to breakdown and utilise dietary fats for several reasons, for example liver dysfunction or gallbladder removal. In these cases, full fat dairy may cause digestive issues but that doesn’t mean that low fat dairy gets a free pass as that also comes with a separate set of problems.

Lactose is the main sugar in milk. Some people don’t produce the lactase enzyme that is necessary to break down and digest lactose which results in diarrhoea, pain and bloating. Lactose intolerance can be genetic or it can be the result of damage to the gut cells that produce lactase, for example with medications like antibiotics or through other medical issues like coeliac disease. Improving gut function may improve this type of lactose intolerance. Different people are able to tolerate different amounts of lactose; some people can have a small amount without problem while others can’t have any. Lactose free milk is just regular milk with added lactase enzyme and is readily available. Hard cheeses, butter and fermented dairy products like yogurt are lower in lactose so may be better tolerated.

Beta-casein is a protein component of milk and there are two main types of beta-casein, A1 beta-casein and A2 beta-casein. In Australia, most of the dairy products from cows contain a higher proportion of A1 beta-casein. For susceptible individuals, digestion of A1 beta-casein produces an exogenous opioid peptide called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) that activates opioid receptors in the body, this means that this protein can have drug like effects on some people. Activation of opioid receptors by BCM-7 can increase inflammation and has been shown to affect many health conditions including:

Gastrointestinal issues, including bloating, pain and chronic constipation

Skin conditions, including acne and eczema

Frequent upper respiratory tract infections - coughs, colds, runny noses

Asthma and allergies - BCM-7 causes huge release of histamine Behavioural issues and learning difficulties – ADD/ADHD

Hormonal issues – PMS, PCOS, fibroids

BCM-7 is implicated in worsening the symptoms of schizophrenia and autism

BCM-7 is implicated in the development of type 1 diabetes

BCM-7 is implicated in the development of coronary heart disease

BCM-7 is implicated in autoimmune disease

There is no simple test that can determine if A1 beta-casein is causing health issues so guidance from a suitably qualified healthcare practitioner is necessary. There are some A2 cow dairy products available and goat and sheep milk dairy products don’t contain A1 beta-casein so they may be better options for those who experience the above symptoms. Unfortunately all types of mammal milks may also contain some other opioid-like peptides which some sensitive people may react to, so a dairy free diet may be the only suitable option in these cases.

So is it the fat, lactose or protein that is causing your health issues? It could be one of those or it could be all three. If you suspect that dairy consumption may be having an impact on your health getting advice from a suitably qualified healthcare practitioner is an important first step. They will be able to guide you on the types of dairy that may be suitable for you or a dairy free trial period.


Lomer, Parkes & Sanderson (2007). Review article: lactose intolerance in clinical practice – myths and realities. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 27, (2), 93–103.doi:10.1111/j.1365-2036.2007.03557.x

Kamiński, Cieślińska, & Kostyra, (2007). Polymorphism of bovine beta-casein and its potential effect on human health. Journal of Applied Genetics, 48, (3), 189–198.doi:10.1007/BF03195213

Jianqin, et al, (2016). Effects of milk containing only A2 beta casein versus milk containing both A1 and A2 beta casein proteins on gastrointestinal physiology, symptoms of discomfort, and cognitive behavior of people with self-reported intolerance to traditional cows’ milk. Nutrition Journal, 15 (35).doi: 10.1186/s12937-016-0147-z

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