Dairy Free, That’s Me!

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Dude. Don’t get me wrong, I am completely in love with cheese and butter. The problem is my body doesn’t like it when I eat those things. I suppose I should tell you my story starting at the beginning.

For the past year or longer I’ve had some pretty serious G.I. “issues” — I’ll leave it at that because anything more might completely gross you out. (If you really want to know because this sounds like you, send me an email.) I’d also been experiencing debilitating chronic fatigue and at first I thought it could be related to depression, but that didn’t exactly account for my G.I. symptoms and the brain fog. I’d never really understood chronic fatigue until I experienced it first hand. I’d always thought it was just a mental thing… like, get up and do something and you’ll be fine! It’s not that simple. It’s real and it’s an incredibly hard thing to deal with, especially when you have a family to take care of.

I didn’t tell my primary care physician everything that was going on because I was stupid!  And because I was more focused on treating the depression, which I thought was the root of it all. Finally, I told my “lady business” doctor (GYN) more about what was going on and she immediately referred me to a gastroenterologist.

My G.I. doctor ran all sorts of tests… fecal (ew!) and blood. The only thing that really came back with anything of concern were the tests for non-specific inflammation, which doesn’t really tell us a whole lot… only that there’s some sort of inflammation somewhere in my body. My G.I. doctor said based on my age (32) and my symptoms she was on the fence about whether or not to do a colonoscopy. I told her that I was game for the colonoscopy because an old family friend was recently diagnosed with colon cancer, which is entirely preventable with screenings (colonoscopies) every 10 years beginning at the age of 50 or earlier depending on your risk factors.

Prepping for the colonoscopy was the hardest part of the whole ordeal because you have to drink this completely disgusting liquid every 10 minutes until all of your pipes are clean. I ended up adding lemonade flavored Crystal Light to mine because I couldn’t keep it down. (Drinking through a straw and placing the opening of the straw as far back on your tongue as possible is also helpful… you have less of an opportunity to taste it that way.)

The morning of my colonoscopy I was super nervous, and when I’m nervous I’m even more obnoxious than usual. My anesthesiologist and nurses wheeled me into the room where the procedure would be done. I felt like I was going to have quite an audience for this because there were so many people there… doctors, nurses, med school students, etc. So I randomly blurted out, “Nobody look at my butt!” They laughed and said they had to because I didn’t want them doing it blind.

I hate how they always ask you a million times, “So what are we doing today?” I know it’s a safety precaution to make sure everyone is on the same page, but come on. I’m finally to the point where the anesieologist has her finger on the button ready to knock me out with the good drugs when they asked me, again, “What are we doing today?” I said, “You’re about to put a camera up my tail pipe.” One of the nurses, a dude, about fell over. Then I said, “Just hit the button.” And I was out.

The next thing I know, I’m waking up in recovery. They said they removed 3 polyps (seeming surprised that I had any). Two of them were small, but one of them was pretty large. I’m so glad I chose to have the colonoscopy because who knows where I would be 20 years from now, when I actually reach the age recommended to begin screenings. There’s an undeniable likelihood that those polyps could have developed into cancer.

What does all of this have to do with dairy? I’m getting to that part.

I think that I might have nearly over-heated my primary care physician’s fax machine with all of the test results pouring in. He called and asked me to come in to go over everything, so I did and filled him in on every last detail. He listened to everything very carefully and came to the conclusion that I might be lactose intolerant. I was pretty skeptical. I’ve been eating cheese and drinking milk my whole life, why now?

I remembered that a friend of mine had some kind of blood panel that tested for food intolerances, so I asked if that was something we could do. Luckily, he’d just recently done one for a patient and he showed me her results (covering her name and personal info, of course). It was a small panel that only tested 13 different foods — the foods that are the most common allergy triggers.

My doctor requested two different tests. One was a food specific IGE allergy panel — IGE meaning straight up allergies, anaphylactic style. The other test was a food specific IGG allergy panel — IGG meaning intolerances or an abnormal production of antibodies in response to specific foods.

The IGE blood panel was completely normal, nothing was flagged as an allergy. This didn’t surprise me because I’ve never had an allergic reaction to food.  On the other hand, the IGG blood panel showed multiple abnormalities. Casein and beef were the two big ones, followed by wheat, banana, chocolate, orange, and corn. This is what my test results looked like:

Food Specific IGG Allergy Panel 2

Test Name Result

Apple (F49) IGG < 2.0
Banana (F92) IGG 4.2 (Abn: H)
Beef (F27) IGG 10.5 (Abn: H)
Casein (F78) IGG 13.1 (Abn: H)
Chicken (F83) IGG < 2.0
Cacao (Chocolate) (F93) IGG 3.5 (Abn: H)
Maize / Corn (F8) IGG 2.3 (Abn: H)
Egg White (F1) IGG < 2.0
Orange (F33) IGG 2.7 (Abn: H)
Potato (F35) IGG < 2.0
Soybean (F14) IGG < 2.0
Tomato (F25) IGG < 2.0
Wheat (F4) IGG 5.2 (Abn: H)

 

So what does this mean exactly? Anytime I eat dairy or beef, anything coming from a cow, my body produces antibodies to fight it. This is different from being lactose intolerant.

Lactose intolerance is the inability for your body to produce lactase, which is the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in milk (lactose). So when a lactose intolerant person consumes dairy they can’t digest it properly. This can be remedied by taking Lactaid (a lactase supplement) before a meal containing dairy.

Casein is the protein that is found in dairy… so I suppose it kind of makes sense that eating beef is also a problem if the protein is the issue. Taking Lactaid will not fix a casein intolerance because it’s not the milk sugars that are the problem. I totally wish I could just pound some Lactaid and binge on cheese and ice cream, but taking that won’t keep my body from producing antibodies to wage a hopeless war on cow protein.

Soooooo… that’s why I’m now one of those dairy-free people. I’m not thrilled about it, but I feel so much better when I don’t eat things that continually cause inflammation making me feel exhausted… All. The. Time. I have a newfound respect for people that deal with food allergies and intolerances because it’s really hard to avoid things. Dairy is hidden in so many foods, it’s taken awhile to learn what I can and can’t eat. I’ve found that eating at home is easier than going out and hoping my special requests are followed.

I will say that one of the most helpful websites I’ve found is GoDairyFree.org. There’s a wealth of information there including recipes, and even a long list of fast food restaurants detailing which items are safe to eat. I’m so grateful they took the time to compile all of that information because it’s made traveling and eating out less stressful.

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Is it easier to lose weight while eating a dairy-free diet?

Hell yes! I used to eat tons of salad thinking I was doing something good that would help me lose weight, but I continued to feel crappy because there was always cheese and sometimes ranch dressing on those salads. So it’s easier to lose weight while going dairy-free because:

A. Dairy is high in calories. Cutting it out completely is an undeniable advantage.

B. If you’re casein intolerant, like me, you’ll feel a million times better not eating it. And if you feel a million times better you’re more likely to exercise, right? When I eat dairy or beef all I want to do is go to bed. It leaves me so physically exhausted, it’s nothing short of debilitating.

In conclusion, I hope that this long story is helpful to anyone that might be going through something similar.  If you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer them, but keep in mind… I’m not a doctor or healthcare professional.  The best advice I can really give is to talk to your doctor candidly about any odd symptoms you’re having.  Don’t leave things out due to embarrassment because that doesn’t help them get closer to a diagnosis.  Just keep in mind they’ve probably seen and heard much worse!  🙂

 





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