Strictly speaking, dairy is not a component of the Paleolithic diet (the diet I promote), but you will find that many Paleo people embrace butter, ghee, cream and full-fat yogurt. Some people include raw milk and cheese as well. However, there is great disagreement in all dietary approaches about whether dairy should really be consumed or not for a variety of reasons which we will now discuss.
Lactose Intolerance & Sensitivity
The prevalence of lactose intolerance and a sensitivity or allergy to dairy is very high, which means in those individuals it would contribute to things like inflammation, intestinal permeability, autoimmune conditions, and all the maladies that are associated with these issues, so these people must typically avoid dairy. As much as 75 percent of the world’s population may be lactose intolerant, with prevalence in the Caucasian population being about 25 percent and about 97 percent in the Native American population. The primary substances involved with a sensitivity are casein and whey. Many people have undiagnosed casein and/or whey sensitivities, which can result in a wide array of symptoms ranging from acne and eczema to depression, anxiety, mania, hyperactivity, and learning disorders, to headaches, earaches, arthritis and more. However, as you will learn further ahead, casein and whey can cause health issues for a variety of other reasons that go way beyond sensitivity.
On the other hand, the high rate of allergy or sensitivity to dairy and lactose intolerance is believed to be caused by pasteurization. Pasteurized milk is highly allergenic because the process of pasteurization strips away crucial enzymes and bacteria that assist with digestion and assimilation. Raw dairy, which contains these enzymes and bacteria, is more compatible with the human gut and the lactose intolerant can drink raw milk without any digestive problems because of these enzymes and bacteria being present. An important enzyme called phosphatase is also destroyed through the pasteurization process, which inhibits your body’s ability to absorb calcium. Unpasteurized milk contains more than 120 different strains of beneficial bacteria, as well as the prebiotics to keep them alive. It was bringing cattle into confinement, subjecting them to unsanitary living conditions and milking procedures that resulted in the need for a pasteurization procedure. When cattle was free-range, this problem didn’t exist and people enjoyed the full-benefits of raw dairy.
Butter is unique in that the pasteurization process does not destroy its fat soluble vitamins. Butter is one of the best sources for true vitamin A that you can find, because it is more easily absorbed and utilized than any other source, which plays a vital role in the adrenal glands, brain, nervous system, bones and many functions like vision, and it is an excellent source of vitamin D, K and E. It is also a good source of arachidonic acid, a fatty acid that is vital for healthy brain function and production of prostaglandins (important hormone-like compounds that regulate many different functions in the body like healing tissue that is damaged or infected, blood flow, clotting, inflammation, and contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle tissue, ovulation, menstruation and labor).
One of the greatest benefits of butter is its short- and medium- chain fatty acid content. Since these fatty acids do not have to be emulsified by bile salts during digestion, they can be absorbed directly from the small intestine and delivered to the liver to be used as an instant source of energy. Short- and medium- chain fatty acids are also important for immune function and posses antimicrobial and antitumor properties. Although the omega-3 and omega-6 content in butter is minimal, they are present in almost equal proportions if you are eating butter from grass-fed cattle, which means it will not contribute to an imbalance in your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
Butter is also a good source of lecithin, which is crucial for a healthy brain and nervous system; and cholesterol which is absolutely essential for your brain, nervous system and production of all your steroid hormones. As long as your butter is coming from grass-fed cows, it will also be rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has been found to possess strong anti-cancer properties, assist in weight loss and help build muscle. CLA is not present in cattle that is fed grain or hay. It is believed by some researchers that many native diets included butter. Butterfat (the fat in dairy) is a rich source of selenium and contains a variety of other nutrients like zinc, chromium, iodine, manganese, and glutathione.
As long as your dairy is from grass-fed cattle, nutrients like CLA, D, K, and E will be present in higher levels. Grain-fed dairy will not be as high in these nutrients and will not have the proper fatty acid ratio. Butter is almost all fat and contains only small amounts of lactose and dairy proteins, therefore it will have a minimal impact on insulin. Ghee is pure fat as well, so it too will not have an impact on insulin, but it will be lacking some of the nutrients that are found in butter. Cream is also pretty much pure fat.
However, very concentrated sources of fat like ghee, butter, cheese and cream can be overstimulating to the neurotransmitters dopamine and endorphins in a similar manner as drugs and alcohol, which may lead to compulsive overeating of that particular food for some people. For this reason, some individuals must be aware and cautious with “concentrated” sources of fat. Cheese is a concentrated source of fat and protein (casein).
Yogurt, cheese, milk and cottage cheese also contain butterfat, but they have high levels of milk sugar known as lactose, which will fuel Candida yeast if one is dealing with overgrowth and eats too much. The lactose and proteins in dairy both incite a very significant insulin response, which means if you are insulin resistant, overweight, have type 2 diabetes or dealing with compulsive overeating or sugar/carb addiction, dairy can be a major perpetuator. However, studies that showed a connection between dairy and insulin resistance were performed with skim and low-fat milk, not whole milk. If whole milk was used, the fat would decrease its impact on insulin.
Dairy is a Gluten Cross-Reactor
Additionally, the proteins in dairy are gluten cross-reactors, which means that the gluten intolerant can create antibodies towards dairy just like they do gluten. Therefore, the gluten intolerant must avoid all dairy, including ghee, which typically contains only minute traces of protein.
Lectins in Dairy
Additionally, dairy contains some lectin content. For those who aren’t familiar, lectins are anti-nutrients that impair the gastrointestinal tract and inhibit nutrient absorption and are a leading cause of inflammation, leaky gut, autoimmune disorders and more. However, lectin content in dairy will also be impacted by what the cow is eating. Traditional factory raised cattle is going to have much higher levels of lectins than grass-fed cattle, because they are eating lectin-rich grains. So, if you are eating dairy from grass-fed cattle, as you should be, then the levels will be lower. You may want to note that goat’s milk does not have lectins, so that is another option. Additionally, fermentation reduces the lectin content, so fermented dairy will contain lower levels.
Many people are under the impression that they need to eat dairy to get calcium. This is not true. You can and should get your calcium needs met through your dark leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, and broccoli; as well as some fish like sardines and salmon; and nuts and seeds like almonds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Almonds are actually higher in calcium than dairy. Figs pack a nice serving of calcium as well. Furthermore, calcium that is derived from leafy green vegetables is considerably more absorbable than calcium that is derived from dairy. But, as mentioned above, pasteurization may be the primary reason your ability to absorb calcium from dairy is impaired because of the destruction of the enzyme known as phosphatase. Additionally, dairy is lower in vitamin K, which is important to accompany calcium.
Countries with very little dairy consumption actually have a much lower incidence of thinning bones than the United States where dairy is consumed abundantly. In a twelve-year study from Harvard that followed 78,000 women, calcium from dairy did not improve bone strength at all. As a matter fact, in the women who acquired most of their calcium from dairy, their incidence of hip fractures was nearly double that of the women who consumed little to none. However, again, these women would have been consuming dairy that was void of phosphatase. Even still, if you are incapable, or choose not to include dairy in your diet, you do not have to worry about insufficient calcium intake; because it can be acquired quite sufficiently from other sources.
Does Dairy Cause Cancer?
There are some professionals, (Loren Cordain, et al.) that feel a growth factor found in dairy called betacellulin may contribute to cancer. However, other researchers feel that betacellulin is only carcinogenic when is it isolated from the many compounds in dairy that have anticarcinogenic properties like CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and saturated fat. So, if you are consuming full-fat and grass-fed dairy, then betacellulin wouldn’t be a problem.
On the other hand, dairy also increases IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), a substance in your blood that is considered to be an aggressive cancer cell promoter and has been linked to breast and prostate cancer. Even supplements containing casein and whey increase IGF. However, other studies demonstrate that many components in dairy have an anticarcinogenic effect. Additionally, fermentation will eliminate most of the IGF, so if you stick with fermented dairy, this is less of an issue. Dairy may also suppress activation of vitamin D, which could increase the risk of cancer.
So it is unclear whether dairy increases your risk of cancer or not. It appears to me, that the cancer risk lies mostly in commercial dairy products that are low in fat and come from grain-fed cattle, not whole fat, grass-fed cattle, but I’ve presented both sides so you can review the literature and decide for yourself.
Many health care providers feel that dairy contributes to intestinal permeability (leaky gut), which means it could be a significant contributor to autoimmune diseases. However, others feel that leaky gut is already in place from other factors like the consumption of grains, etc., which then allows the undigested dairy proteins to permeate the gut, at which point it can then contribute to a wide variety of health issues like inflammation, autoimmune disorders, etc. So, it is unclear whether dairy actually “causes” leaky gut; but if leaky gut is present, then it may be best to avoid dairy, because it can perpetuate the problem.
Dairy Contains Mind-Altering Addictive Opiates
Another very important factor to consider in regard to dairy, is that just like grains, it also contains exorphins called casomorphins. Casomorphins are opiate-like substances that affect the brain in a similar manner as heroin and morphine, which can result in disturbance of thought, mood and behavior. These substances can be very problematic for people who are tying to overcome an addiction to food, carbs, sugar, drugs, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and other addictive substances, as it can lead to cravings for the substance of choice and relapse and they contribute to a wide variety of mental health and behavioral disorders.
Casein and whey, can both be broken down in the gastrointestinal tract into a whole host of peptides called casomorphins, that can induce sedation and sleep, tolerance and depression just like other opiates. These naturally occurring morphines can enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain and other organs. As a matter of a fact, if a mother is breastfeeding her child, these peptides may pass through her breast milk and into the child, which irritates the gut of the infant and may result in colic.
The higher the casein or whey content in the food, the higher the level of casomorphins, which means the more opiate impact it will have. Therefore, the consumption of cheese, which contains very concentrated levels of casein, has much higher levels of opiates than a glass of milk, a bowl of ice cream, butter and other dairy products. Thus, why cheese is addictive to much of the population. Casomorphins may have about one-tenth the potency of morphine.
Although a large percentage of the population has issues with exorphins, not everyone does. Integrative psychiatrist, Dr. James Greenblatt explains that one of the primary causes for adverse reactions to exorphins is due to a lack of a digestive enzyme called DPP IV. When we consume any dairy product with casein, it is broken down by digestive enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract into a peptide called casomorphin. Then DPP IV is needed for the complete breakdown of casomorphin. If you have enough DPP IV then it is broken down into harmless amino acids. If DPP IV is “inactive, deficient, or functionally not optimal,” then it doesn’t break down completely and pieces of it enter the brain. Casomorphins react with opiate receptors in the brain just like heroin and morphine and mimic their effects.
Casein is correlated with a wide variety of mental health, behavioral, cognitive and autoimmune disorders like autism, hyperactivity, attention deficit, mania, schizophrenia, dementia and Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders (anorexia, binging compulsive overeating), dyslexia, post partum psychosis, tics and tourettes, multiple sclerosis, aspergers, and many other psychiatric disorders, largely due to these casomorphins. However people with OCD, autism, eating disorders, and schizophrenia have a very high correlation. Elevated levels of casomorphins are often found in people with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia as well. Dr. Greenblatt and others have had great success in helping people with autism, OCD, eating disorders, schizophrenia and many other mental health disorders by eliminating dairy from the diet, and supplementing with DPP IV and probiotics.
DPP IV is a zinc dependent enzyme and also needs amino acids for synthesis, so if you are deficient in zinc or amino acids you won’t be producing it adequately. Other factors that can inhibit DPP IV include genetic susceptibility, interferon and gelatin from vaccines, antibiotics, wheat and dairy, Candida overgrowth, mercury and other heavy metals, pesticides, and other nutritional deficiencies. Additionally, there are a variety of diabetic medications that inhibit DPP IV, because short term studies showed that blood sugar will go down. But, this means that casomorphin levels will be higher and they will be more susceptible to mental illness.
There is a simple urine test called the Gluten/Casein Peptides Test that can help identify if one is breaking down casomorphins. However, not everyone who develops psychiatric or medical symptoms from dairy tests positive, so a negative test result does not necessarily mean that one is not having issues with these neuropeptides either.
There are six different types of casomorphins, depending on whether the milk is A1 or A2, known as Casomorphin 1-3, 1-4, 1-4 amine, 5, 7, and 8, all of which have the same opiate-like impact on the brain. Furthermore, the lack of the DPP IV enzyme is only one possible factor that causes adverse reactions to casein. Other common contributors to adverse reactions to casein may include an IgG response, IgE response, autoimmune disorders or other unknown factors. Some individuals have an intolerance and feel better if they eliminate these foods even when all tests are negative.
According to Dr. Greenblatt, other telltale signs that indicate a problem with casein include, “intense obsessions or intrusive thoughts that appear refractory (failure to cognitive based therapy or medications) to psychological interventions, excessive consumption of dairy to the exclusion of other foods (eating nothing but), intense feeling of sedation or calm after eating dairy.”
Additionally exorphins may not always be the sole contributing factor to a disorder. Sometimes it is the only factor and the problem clears up immediately, but other factors may be contributing to symptoms as well, and in that case, only partial improvement may occur.
It is interesting to note that genetic polymorphisms that occur in cows producing the milk affect casomorphin levels. There are 13 different genetic variations of casein, A1 and A2 are the most common forms. Incomplete breakdown of A1 leads to casomorphins. Therefore, certain cows produce higher levels of casomorphins than others. When dairy is consumed from these cows, then the individual would be more susceptible to mental health issues. A1 is also associated with higher mortality rates from ischaemic heart disease and A2 is associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 1 diabetes, while another variation called BCM-7 may be associated with infant death syndrome, autism, schizophrenia and other neurological disorders, as well inflammation in the joints, digestive disturbances and leaky gut.
In regard to whey proteins it is a-lactalbumin and ß-lactoglobulin that can generate opioid activity.
So, it should be clear at this point, if one is sensitive to casomorphins and gluten exorphins (which have the same effect), then they are facing double trouble when these two food groups are combined, like in a bowl of cereal, pizza, lasagna, sandwiches, etc. Considering the prevalence of these two foods in combination on most people’s daily menu, we can see why this is wide spread problem in our society.
Here is a fantastic video with a presentation from Dr. James Greenblatt on how exorphins from dairy and gluten can affect the brain and body, if you would like to learn more.
However, on the flip side, some of these peptides may also have immunomodulatory, antihypertensive, antidiarrheal and antibacterial abilities. Some peptides can inhibit an enzyme that is associated with vasoconstriction of blood vessels, while others decrease motility and delay gastrointestinal transit, and some peptides can cause a biochemical change in the cell that results in stimulation of phagoycytic activity of macrophages, and peptides produced from bovine lactoferrin has antibacterial qualities. Furthermore, some peptides that are produced are opioid antagonists, meaning they inhibit their morphine-like effects.
Not only that, dairy contains small amounts of morphine itself. Yes, the cow actually produces morphine in its own body. It is believed that the reason we come to find the consumption of certain dairy products like cheese pleasurable is simply because of its opiate content. Without these aspects, cheese would likely be undesirable. It’s similar to an alcoholic or a nicotine addict; where as initially alcohol and nicotine taste unpleasant, but the way they affect our brain makes us drawn back to them.
It is interesting to note, that a woman’s breast milk also contains small amounts of casomorphins. This is actually true of any milk bearing species. It appears that the casomorphins purpose is to provide a calming, drug-like effect that helps secure the bond between mother and infant, so that the infant will be compelled to nurse and get the nutrients it needs for survival. Since it also slows down intestinal transit, it helps prevent diarrhea, in the same way that opioid drugs and cheese cause constipation in adults. The casomorphins can sometimes get out of a woman’s breast milk and into her own blood stream and travel to her brain. If opiate levels get too high, it can result in postpartum psychosis.
Furthermore, whey increases glutamate levels. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is toxic to the brain when it is in excess and can cause a wide variety of symptoms like anxiety, panic, irritability, nervousness, insomnia, agitation, and other brain disturbances. For those who have issues with excess glutamate, whey should be avoided. This is particularly true of whey powder, as a concentrated source of whey it would result in high levels of glutamate.
Last, but not least, cheese also contains PEA (phenylethylamine), an addictive amphetamine-like substance that is also present in chocolate that overstimulates dopamine receptors in a similar manner as meth, Adderall and Ritalin, increasing pulse, alertness, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Loren Cordain, one of the leading researchers in the Paleo field, feels that the naturally occurring hormones passed from the cow into the dairy may possibly alter our own hormones, and dairy contains protease inhibitors that inhibit our ability to digest protein and may contribute to leaky gut. Dairy also increases mucus in the gastrointestinal tract, which may contribute to inflammation of the gut and decrease absorption of nutrients.
It may also depend on what issue you have with dairy in regard to whether you can eat it or not. For example, if you’re mildly to moderately intolerant of casein, then everything except ghee would need to be eliminated, since ghee is mostly void of casein. However, there may be tiny amounts of casein in ghee, so if you are extremely sensitive, then you would need to avoid that as well. If your issue with dairy is lactose, you can probably still eat butter and ghee, because ghee does not contain lactose, and butter is almost free of casein and lactose. Cheese has casein and lactose, however hard cheese has very low levels of lactose. Cream is almost free of casein and lactose.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of pros and cons for dairy. Unlike grains or legumes who have no redeeming qualities, dairy falls within a gray area. For these reasons, I am undecided about whether this is a food that should be consumed. If we only look at strict Paleo principles, I think it may be best to avoid dairy since it is not part of our native diet. However, it is clearly not bad for everyone and many people have no negative effects. It depends on your gut health; whether you’re insulin resistant; have type 2 diabetes; are trying to overcome a food, sugar, drug or alcohol addiction or a compulsive overeater; whether there is a mental health or brain impairment issue present like OCD, schizophrenia, autism, or dementia and others; whether you have an autoimmune disorder; and what type of dairy you are consuming. Individuals who have any of the aforementioned conditions should exercise caution and mindfulness in regard to dairy.
If you aren’t dealing with any mental health issues, gut issues or autoimmune disorders, and dairy doesn’t trigger you to binge on food or other addictive substances, then butter, ghee, cream, and full-fat yogurt can be beneficial for many people, especially those with fatigued adrenals, low cholesterol, low blood sugar, insufficient fatty acid levels, and neurotransmitter imbalances. This is especially true for the individual with a marijuana addiction. Organic butter is one of the best and quickest ways to replenish arachidonic acid, one of the primary nutrients needed to heal the brain from marijuana addiction. Additionally, butter is one of the most nourishing foods for the adrenal glands due to its vitamin A and cholesterol content, and it can help increase your cholesterol if your cholesterol is too low.
On the other hand, all the drug-like characteristics of dairy are one of the primary reasons some people find dairy to be addictive. Since they are impacting the brain in the same manner as drugs, this can disrupt brain chemistry, which may result in cravings for the drug of choice and relapse in people trying to overcome an addiction of any kind, and contribute to anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders. So, if you notice that dairy does incite cravings for any substance or trigger you to binge on carbs, then it needs to be removed. In a few years, once you have achieved a good degree of healing in your endocrine system and brain chemistry from eating a Paleo diet, an occasional indulgence in dairy may not be a problem.
When I first began the road of healthy eating more than 24 years ago, the first integrative medicine doctor I ever saw said to me, “cow’s milk is for cow’s.” Once he said that, I was never able to drink milk again, because it just rang so true for me. Although I did continue to eat butter, yogurt, and ghee. This brings up another interesting side of the coin that many people debate passionately. The human body is designed to consume milk from their mother, (not any other species) for a short period of their life and then leave it behind. Many believe that consuming milk from another species and into adulthood is unnatural and the reason that so many people experience negative effects from dairy. So I offer this piece of information as food for thought. I would say this is probably true, however not everyone experiences negative effects and the many other factors that we have discussed should be taken into consideration.
Personally, I find dairy fat to be beneficial for a variety of reasons in my own life, so I allow butter, cream, ghee and full-fat yogurt in my diet to some degree. If I eat cheese on a regular basis I don’t feel well, so I reserve it for special occasions. However, I have observed a difference in how I feel depending on which brand of dairy I am consuming. For example, Kerrygold butter gives me bizarre brain symptoms, but butter from Organic Valley does not. Certain brands of cheese also have profound negative effects on my brain, while other brands do not. So I assume this is due to the genetic variation of the cows that each company is raising; apparently I don’t do well with all genetic variations. Alternatively, it could be due to the fact that Kerrygold currently feeds their cattle a little GMO feed, while Organic Valley does not, or that one source is cleaner as far as toxins are concerned. So, you may find this is true for you as well. If you have symptoms from dairy, you can try different brands to see if one of them might work.
However, even if one chooses to permit dairy in their diet, I think it’s probably best not to ingest it on a daily basis. I try to keep it to two or three times a week to be on the safe side. The cultured types are best and it should always be obtained from organic and grass-fed sources. I never support drinking a glass of milk. All low-fat dairy sources should be avoided. You want full-fat in order to obtain all the nutritional value we discussed earlier, and the fat decreases the negative impact of the sugar content on blood sugar, insulin and the brain. The more fat in the dairy, then the less lactose that will be present, and the fat also aids the body in digesting the lactose and dairy proteins. Dairy is not as rich in nutrients as meat, so it should not be used in place of meat. Raw dairy is actually the healthiest form, but it is illegal in most states, so many people make their own.
Sometimes you may need to weigh the negatives against the positives of a particular food to determine whether you should eat it or not. For example, perhaps you are healing leaky gut, but you also have severe adrenal fatigue. In this situation, dairy may contribute to gut inflammation, but it would provide supreme support for your adrenals. If the adrenal issue demands more attention than the gut, which is often the case, then including butterfat in your diet may be necessary. On the other hand, if you have a life-altering autoimmune disorder, then the seriousness of the autoimmune disorder may override all other conditions and in this case avoiding all dairy would be the right course of action. However, if your cholesterol is dangerously low or you are trying to overcome a marijuana addiction, then the need for butter may take precedence over other issues for at least a period of time until these problems are corrected. What’s right for one person, may not be the case for another, and your needs may change over time, if you make improvements in your health or if health would decline.
The best way to determine whether dairy should be part of your diet is to remove it in all forms for a period of time to see how your body responds. If there are improvements in any of your cravings, symptoms or conditions, this is good indication that dairy may be contributing. Then bring back one type of dairy at a time (e.g. butter, yogurt, cream, cheese, ghee) and observe whether there are any changes. If symptoms, cravings or conditions return, then this is another indication that dairy is contributing. Don’t bring back all types of dairy at once, because you may not have an issue with each one. For example, you may find you do fine with butter and/or cream, but can’t eat cheese or yogurt. Alternatively, you may find that yogurt agrees with you but nothing else does; or you may only respond positively to ghee. You may also find that you can get away with eating a particular dairy product once in a while, but not on a regular basis. There is a wide range of possibilities which can vary greatly from individual to individual and year to year, depending on your unique biochemistry at that particular point of your life. Gauge your intake by what your body tells you.
Dr. James Greenblatt, Neuroactive Peptides from Common Foods Contribute to Psychiatric Disorders. Great Plains Laboratory. See video above.
University of Illinois. Illini DairyNet. Biological Activities of Peptides Derived from Milk Proteins
Mueen Aslam and Walter L. Hurley 08/05/1998
Neal D. Barnard, M.D. Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings St. Martin’s Griffin 2004.
Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat. Wiley, 2001
Chris Masterjohn. Does Milk Cause Cancer? http://www.realmilk.com/health/does-milk-cause-cancer/
Mark Sisson. 10 Common Arguments Against Dairy Consumption Explored http://www.marksdailyapple.com/10-common-arguments-against-dairy-consumption-explored
Sayer, Ji. Do Hidden Opiates In Our Food Explain Food Addictions? May 2012.http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/do-hidden-opiates-our-food-explain-food-addictions1
Mary G. Enig, PhD and Sally Fallon. The Skinny on Fats. The Weston A Price Foundation. January 2000 http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/skinny-on-fats
Mark Sisson. The Definitive Guide to Dairy http://www.marksdailyapple.com/dairy-intolerance/