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Do You Need a Doctor's Note to Give Up Dairy?

Do You Need a Doctor's Note to Give Up Dairy?

I was an 18-year-old college student with a big problem. Gas. The issue started seemingly out of nowhere. But the quiet potency of the problem soon had me extremely nervous about any social situation, including my classes. Normally, a college-age woman might be embarrassed to talk to a doctor about such a delicate issue, but since there was nothing delicate about the effect I was having on my friends and fellow classmates, I made the appointment.

The Diary Fingers the Dairy
The doctor seemed rather casual about my symptom. I took that as a good sign since the strength of the odor and the suddenness of the onset had me fearing the worst. Then, instead of ordering tests or writing a prescription, the doctor instructed me to do what I thought was a rather odd and simple thing. He asked me to keep a food log and bring it back to him in a week.

I went home and meticulously wrote down every bite I consumed. As a frugal college student and active gymnast, it had been my determined practice to get the most out of my one-price, all-I-could-eat cafeteria meal card. Wanting to be strong and healthy, I had been not only helping myself to the veggie burgers, cheese pizza, and green-bean casserole, but I had made sure to drink two big glass of milk with every meal. When my doctor reviewed my food diary, he quickly told me to drop my six-glass-a-day milk habit cold turkey. I did. Suddenly, I was back in the running for Miss Congeniality.

Australian Researchers Question Self-Diagnosed Dairy Intolerance
According to the opinion of researchers in Australia, I did things the 'right way:' I got a doctor's note before dropping the dairy. The Australian researchers are concerned because more and more Aussies are avoiding milk and other dairy products without consulting a physician. In the conclusion of their report, the researchers state their concern that those who avoid dairy without first getting permission from their doctor will suffer nutritional deficits. 

The report stems from a postal survey of over 1,100 Australian adults who answered questions on health and dietary habits. The researchers discovered that 16.6 percent of the respondents were avoiding at least some milk or dairy products. Of those avoiding dairy, 1.2 percent were avoiding dairy on a doctor's advice, and another 2.8 percent cited reasons such as "concerns about levels of saturated fat; personal dislike of taste; calorie and weight management; and the view that dairy foods were not appropriate for human adult consumption." What worried the researchers was that 11.8 percent of the group avoided some or all dairy products primarily due to symptoms they experienced when they ate dairy, but they didn't have a doctor's permission for eliminating dairy from their diets. 

Symptoms of Dairy Intolerance
The survey respondents cited reasons such as the following for their decision to decline dairy:

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort and cramps (50.8%)
  • Bloating or wind (43.8%)
  • Diarrhea (36.9%)
  • Mucus build up (35.4%)
  • Constipation (14.6%)
  • Heartburn or indigestion (13.8%)

As a physician, I recognize these as common symptoms of dairy intolerance. With the increased health knowledge common to the public, it doesn't surprise me that people are identifying themselves as dairy intolerant when they experience these symptoms after consuming milk, cheese, or other dairy products. Our bodies can react to various components in milk. For some of us, it's the protein (casein) in milk that causes the reaction. For others, it's the sugar (lactose). About 95 percent of Asian-Americans, 74 percent of Native Americans, 70 percent of African-Americans, 53 percent of Mexican-Americans, and 15 percent of Caucasians are reported to be lactose intolerant.

Dairy is Against Doctor's Orders
As unpleasant as dairy intolerance is for much of the population, even those who don't experience the physical symptoms of intolerance should avoid dairy. In the article, Health Concerns about Dairy Products, the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine has identified serious health problems associated with consuming milk and other dairy products. These include increased risk of:

Follow the Money
The research which documented the trend of people avoiding dairy based on physiological symptoms was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation. The report on dairy avoidance was part of a larger survey that investigated why people were choosing not to eat certain foods (like wheat). It would seem that a corporation interested in the consumption of grain might not want people "simply deciding" to avoid whole categories of foods. Therefore, understanding choices regarding dairy would provide them insight into why individuals might be motivated to eschew other foods, like grains. But the researchers' conclusion that there may be nutritional risks to eliminating dairy might easily cause people to continue consuming dairy out of fear. Let me assure you that dairy products are not necessary for human health or nutrition at any stage of our development. Medical research repeatedly affirms that dairy products are in fact risk factors for disease.

Increased Knowledge Can Lead to Increased Health
When I was 18, I simply didn't know that dairy could cause undesirable digestive issues such as gas or that dairy consumption increases the risk of serious disease. Today, all of us have access to this information. Moreover, with the wealth of information available on the Internet, we all have access to the knowledge that basing our diet solely on low-fat, whole plant foods is the best way to boost our health and promote longevity. In other words, we don't need a doctor's note to pursue optimal health. 

Additional Information:

(1) Getting Milked Out of Money and Health?

(2) From Engine 2: That Darn Dairy Industry That Fooled Us All

(3) From Dr. T. Colin Campbell: Dairy Protein Causes Cancer

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