Op-ed: 5 reasons to quit dairy

Milk and its derivatives can cause premature aging, and possibly even cancer.

I am a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa where I do clinical research studying the impact of diet and lifestyle on multiple sclerosis–related fatigue. I am interested in this line of research because I was once profoundly disabled due to progressive multiple sclerosis, dependent upon a tilt-recline wheelchair. As I became more disabled, I began studying the scientific literature and experimented on myself for years. I discovered the ancestral health movement and adopted the Paleo diet, though I continued to decline. Then I discovered Functional Medicine and integrated it with what I had learned from the Paleo world to create a dietary and lifestyle protocol that got me out of the wheelchair and back onto my bicycle. I can now bike five miles to and from work each day.

I worked at the VA for many years in the traumatic brain injury clinic and also served as director of the therapeutic lifestyle clinic. In both clinics I focused on using diet and lifestyle to treat traumatic brain injury and neurological and neurodegenerative disorders. Patients reported a marked reduction in pain, improved mood, and better thinking after adopting my protocol. Many of them did make those diet and lifestyle changes, and got their lives back.

But whether you are suffering from a pre-existing condition or are healthy, there are certain elements of my protocol from which everyone can benefit. The focus of this op-ed is one such element: removing dairy from your diet. Many nutrition experts say dairy is a good source of protein and calcium, both important nutrients for health. Others, like myself, advise against dairy. I recommend removing all dairy for 100 days to see what impact it has on your health. Until you remove the dairy you will not know if you have unrecognized sensitivity to casein.Here, five compelling reasons not to eat dairy.

1. It’s not a necessary component of a healthy diet.

Dairy is a relatively new food for humans. It is estimated that it first appeared in the human diet approximately 8,000 years ago, which is a very short time if you consider that homo sapiens emerged 250,000 years ago. If we required dairy to thrive, our ancestors would not have enjoyed reproductive success over these 250,000 years. I think the evolutionary evidence is clear that dairy is not critical for health.

2. Digestion of milk proteins can produce compounds that are toxic to brain cells.

Notably, there is variation in the casein molecule based on the breed of cattle and species producing the milk. A1 beta casein emerges from black and white Holstein dairy cattle, which produce more milk than other dairy cattle. Digestion of this type of casein creates beta-casomorphin7, which is similar to morphine. In the genetically susceptible person the beta-casomorphin7 depletes antioxidants in the brain, contributing to toxicity in the brain. We do not have a commercial test for this so I recommend those who are sensitive to gluten avoid casein and milk products. New research, though, indicates that it is a potential problem for many more, possibly all, adults. There are breeds of cattle with more A2 casein and less A1 casein, such as Brown Swiss and Guernsey. Goats and camels also have less A1 casein than Holsteins. Still, I do not recommend any of the milks.

3. It could make you age faster and even cause cancer.

Milk, even organic milk, stimulates growth, which is very helpful for infants and growing children but is potentially harmful to adults.Milk does this, in part, by stimulating the production of insulin-like growth factor. Higher levels of this in adults is associated with a higher risk of premature aging and development of both benign and cancerous tumors.

4. It could cause inflammation that wreaks all kinds of health havoc.

Casein is structurally similar to gluten, the protein in grain. Those who have developed sensitivity to gluten, causing Celiac disease, are likely to have problems with casein and dairy. While 90 percent of those who have been sensitized to gluten do not have diarrhea or any abdominal complaints whatsoever, they may have underlying neurological, psychological, skin-related or other symptoms that resolve when they adopt a gluten-free diet. If you are sensitive to gluten, then you are likely to also have excessive inflammation in response to casein.

5. In an epidemiological study across 27 countries consuming more milk was linked to higher rates of multiple sclerosis.

That matters to me a great deal. If I have any dairy protein (even from camels or goats) or gluten, I have a severe flare of MS-related pain. I am extremely sensitive to both gluten and casein, though I do not have Celiac disease. Instead of butter, I use clarified butter, also known as ghee. Clarified butter has had the protein (casein) removed and is often tolerated by those who do not tolerate casein.

Learn more about Dr. Wahls' researchhereand pick up herbookorcookbook.