I had probably eaten some form of dairy every day since I was born, why did I have to give it up now?!
I mean, I wasn't getting stomach cramps or violent diarrhoea every time I ate my cereal or drank a glass of milk...so what was the issue?
But it turned out, (after the push from my nutritionist to remove it) that dairy was in fact driving my cystic acne and seriously messing with my hormones.
Since that moment, I have avoided dairy completely for the most part...
(...Apart from some grass fed butter and a few bites of creamy, chocolate dessert every now again (because...duh! )
If strong emotions are coming up whilst you are reading this, such as...
"I could never cut out cheese"....."I'm fine with dairy, I don't have any food intolerances"....."No! What the heck would I eat?!"...."My PCOS symptoms are genetic, my diet doesn't make any difference".
Then that is a pretty big indicator that you have some 'dependancy' with dairy and this can be due to a food intolerance!
When you consume a food that you are sensitive to, this causes stress and inflammation in the body. To combat this, our body produces endorphins (happy brain chemicals), which are in the opiate family, along with morphine. Opiates make us feel good, so we end up craving and consuming more of these same foods in an effort to get the same feeling.
So your cheese 'obsession' may actually be the result of a dairy sensitivity! Interesting right?
The Issues with Dairy if You Have PCOS...
Can Promote Inflammation
Inflammation and insulin resistance are 2 of the major drivers of PCOS. Inflammation is a natural process that is beneficial (to a point), however if chronic and unresolved this can lead to cellular damage and disease.
You can imagine chronic inflammation being like a fire, spreading throughout the body, wreaking havoc.
Conventional dairy is one of the most inflammatory foods out there, along with gluten, sugar and omega 6 fats.
There are 2 components of dairy that can cause problems...
Lactose is a sugar that tends to cause digestive issues for many people that lack the enzyme needed to break it down.
The other protein is casein. This can create inflammation and send an individuals immune system into overdrive, without any immediate symptoms. A1 casein, which is the most commonly consumed dairy in the UK, USA, Australia and Canada, is a lot more inflammatory than A2 milk produced by Jersey cows, goats and sheep.
Increases insulin levels
Insulin is a hormone produced by our pancreas that helps to shuttle glucose from the bloodstream and into our cells.
Around 80% of women with PCOS are believed to have some degree of insulin resistance, a condition where the cell becomes 'numb' to the effects of insulin, causing the glucose levels in the bloodstream to remain elevated and our pancreas continues to pump out even more insulin to keep this under control.
Long term, this process of insulin resistance can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a hormone produced in the liver and body tissues of mammals, and is particularly high in the milk of cows. When we consume dairy products, the IGF-1 mimics the role of insulin and has insulin-like activity in the body. Women with PCOS already have higher than normal levels of IGF and are more sensitive to the effects of insulin.
Elevated insulin levels in PCOS are linked to many of the classic symptoms such as hirsutism (male pattern hair growth), skin tags, acne, skin discolouration, weight gain and infertility.
IGF-1 is designed to promote cellular growth and development. This is why whey protein shakes are popular with bodybuilders and how baby calves can grow into huge beasts by drinking their mothers milk.
May promote a 'leaky gut'
A common reason for inflammation within the body (one of the main drivers of PCOS) is poor gut health.
Although we may not have any major digestive symptoms or believe that the things we experience are 'normal' (having 1 bowel movement per week, excessive gas or bloating after each meal), our gut health can still be compromised.
When we consume a food that we are sensitive to, this can impair the epithelial lining of our gut, leading to the development of a condition known as intestinal permeability (aka 'leaky gut').
Leaky gut has been linked to many chronic health conditions including psoriasis, eczema, arthritis, M.S, type 1 diabetes, endometriosis and.....PCOS!
Consuming dairy when you are sensitive to it can therefore impact the digestion and absorption of nutrients needed for proper hormone function, and also our immunity.
Many Doctors have shunned the link between diet and acne for decades.
When I visited my GP for my acne, I was never once asked about the food that I ate, which at the time revolved mainly around Chinese food, cereal and tangy cheese Doritos.
There are many scientific research studies linking dairy consumption and acne though! (Are these just being ignored by GP's and Dermatologists?!)
Dairy can cause breakouts by increasing insulin levels, stimulating androgen production and creating inflammation. All of these things can increase sebum production, increasing the oiliness of our skin and providing 'food' for the bacteria that drive acne.
If I accidentally eat something with dairy in now, I can guarantee that a huge, deep cyst will develop within the next 48 hours.
What To Do....
Give your body a break!
For the next 30, (ideally 60) days, ditch dairy and see how your symptoms change.
I have only ever worked with a handful of women with PCOS, an inflammatory health condition or acne, who haven't seen many positive changes after cutting it out of their diet.
Now, I am not saying that everyone is sensitive and must avoid dairy forever, but sadly, most people just don't know until they go without it for a short period of time.
If you go dairy free (strictly) for 2 months, see ZERO improvements and want to reintroduce milk, yogurts and cheese...then by all means go ahead!
In this case, whole, organic and raw dairy (if possible) is preferred as this avoids the excess hormones, antibiotic exposure and provides you with the most nutrition.
The Calcium Concern
"But where will I get my calcium from, I don't wan't brittle bones in my 50's?"
There is a common misconception that you must consume dairy in order to reach your recommended daily calcium intake and prevent osteoporosis.
However, did you know that the countries with the highest dairy intake (including the UK and US) actually have the highest prevalence of osteoporosis and brittle bones.
Other nutrients including magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, boron and protein are just as important as calcium for bone health!
Some plant sources of calcium include:
So what are you waiting for?...
It is so easy to be dairy free these days.
Swap your greek yogurt for coconut yogurt. Add almond milk to your smoothie, rather than regular milk. Replace the feta in your salad with chopped avocado.
You will never know if dairy is driving your painful zits, inability to lose weight or facial hair growth, unless you cut it out and monitor your symptom improvements!
Have you watched my free webinar 'Overcoming PCOS Acne' yet? Find out the steps I take my clients through to help them overcome their hormonal acne!
If you'd like further support, click here to schedule a free 30 minute 'Hormone Troubleshooting' call.