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Bloated? Gassy? Acne? Taking multiple bathroom trips? These are just some of the common symptoms that affect some people who are sensitive to dairy products. You might be surprised to learn that two-thirds of the world's population is lactose intolerant, making milk and dairy products one of the most common allergens. And, according to researchers, "lactose intolerance occurs at a high frequency in Hashimoto's thyroiditis patients." One study found that 75.9 % of the Hashimoto's patients studied had lactose intolerance.
There are three types of reactions to dairy.
Dairy Sensitivity: Dairy sensitivity generally occurs if someone over consumes dairy products. A sensitivity to dairy products can create symptoms such as an upset stomach, bloating, or acne.
Dairy Allergy: Someone who is allergic to dairy has an immune response to consuming dairy or milk products. Cow’s milk is the main cause of milk allergy, however, milk from other mammals can sometimes also cause a reaction. Common symptoms of a dairy allergy include wheezing, vomiting, hives, severe digestive problems, and chronic inflammation. A dairy allergy can also cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening constriction of the airways that restricts breathing.
Dairy Intolerance: Dairy or lactose intolerance means that someone is unable to fully digest the sugar in milk, known as lactose. Our small intestine produces an enzyme called lactase and when someone has low levels, they’re unable to digest milk products. The condition itself is harmless, but it is uncomfortable because of the resulting symptoms and adverse effects such as diarrhea, gas, pain, and bloating.
For those who consume dairy products, what are the benefits? Dairy products are packed with vital vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin, potassium, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, vitamins A, B12, and D, choline, magnesium, and selenium. Most of these nutrients are crucial to thyroid health and people with hypothyroidism might discover that they are deficient in some of these vitamins and minerals. If that is the case, then would someone with hypothyroidism, who doesn’t have severe dairy sensitivity, avoid dairy?
The consensus is that people with hypothyroidism may have better results if they avoid dairy products while symptomatic. This is due largely in part because of the inflammatory effects that cow’s milk can have on those that have a pre-existing dairy allergy or are either lactose intolerant. And, as noted, there's a high prevalence of lactose intolerance in people with Hashimoto's and hypothyroidism.
Additionally, a study from Los Angeles found that consumption of cow’s milk and other dairy products can interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormone replacement medication such as levothyroxine, the most common thyroid hormone replacement drug used to treat hypothyroidism. The study concluded that to ensure optimal levothyroxine absorption and maintain healthy thyroid hormone levels, thyroid patients should avoid taking thyroid medication at the same time as cow’s milk and related dairy products.
If you’re one of the many who love dairy but need to avoid it, some alternatives would be safer to consume regularly and in some cases can provide some major health benefits!
Full-fat yogurt: Yogurt contains beneficial bacteria that help break down lactose. And a full-fat option will also give you the added benefit of protein and gut-healthy nutrients.
Hard cheeses: Cheeses that have less lactose such as mozzarella, parmesan, asiago, and manchego will trigger less digestive upset than other cheeses
Goat's milk: Researchers in Spain found that goat milk contains many nutritional benefits for human consumption. Goat's milk contains less casein alpha 1 (a type of protein) than cow milk, which makes goat milk hypoallergenic. It also contains a lower proportion of lactose than cow milk, making it easier to digest for those with lactose intolerance. Goat's milk also can help those with iron deficiency because it enhances the nutritional use of iron and minimizes calcium and iron interactions.
Sheep's milk: Similar to goat's milk, sheep's milk is also seen as an alternative for those with lactose intolerance. It contains a higher concentration of micronutrients, including calcium and phosphorus, and macronutrients including proteins and fats.
Camel's milk: Camel's milk has been consumed for generations, and given its benefits, it’s no wonder why. It is rich in vitamin C and protective proteins that make it a viable option for lactose-intolerant individuals. A small study of 25 lactose-intolerant patients showed that 23 of them were able to tolerate camel milk with no clinical reactions. It also has antioxidant properties and is antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-hepatitis, anti-arthritis, and anti-ulcer due to its rich source of magnesium and zinc. It’s also efficacious in improving glycemic control in diabetic patients.
Plant milks: While less nutritious and lower in protein than cow's milk, plant milks like almond milk, hemp milk, oat milk, and rice milk can provide a milk-like alternative without the downsides of cow's milk dairy products.
A healthy gut, and avoiding food allergens and triggers, are part of a healthy lifestyle with an autoimmune thyroid condition or hypothyroidism. If you suspect that you might have a food allergy or intolerance, or adverse health effects from your diet, it’s always advised to work with a healthcare professional who is well-versed in nutritional approaches to autoimmune thyroid disease and an underactive thyroid. Paloma's doctors and nutritionists can help you get the diagnosis, treatment, and nutritional advice that will take your thyroid health to the next level.