By Kathleen Mueller – Well, folks, I have been dairy-free for one week. I have not had to take even one Motrin. (After three years of eating the stuff like candy!) Bloating is pretty much gone, and I’ve lost three pounds. I no longer look four months pregnant, but I’ve still got a ways to go! Before I go any further: may I remind you I am not a doctor, not a medical professional. I’m just a person who has been suffering in excruciating, widespread muscle pain, mental incapacitation and bone-crushing fatigue for three years, with no diagnosis and hardly anyone believing my symptoms.
Since going dairy-free, I have more energy than I’ve had since all this started in 2004. I’ve been able to walk the dogs, do housework, write, and go to work. Instead of having to pick just one activity, I can once again do them all. I can drive my car without feeling like I’m going to fall asleep. I can handle the stresses at work and at home with relative ease, instead of falling into a funk and wanting to “drop out”.
But the best part is the absence of pain. For the first time in three years, I have hardly any muscle or joint pain. There is the ever-present shoulder/neck thing, but I’ve had that for so long, I doubt it has ever had anything to do with this mysterious thing that overtook me in 2004, and for which not one doctor has provided a diagnosis. I have an occasional twinge in a knee, wrist, fingers or lower back. Sometimes it lasts an hour or so, but no longer wipes me out.
My sleep is still disordered, no matter what I do. But if I go back to sleep after lying awake in the night, I feel well-rested enough to get on with my day when I do awaken. This was something impossible when all that lactic acid was rooting around in my system.
I remember describing to a couple of different doctors that I felt as though something was literally coursing through my veins and blood. I described it as a feeling of electrical current, or some foreign substance running through my veins. It would sizzle and burn. The sizzling would root around system-wide for a while, and then land in one spot — generally my lower back right where the two FM “tender points” are located just above the hip bones in the lumbar area. But it would “land” or “settle” in other places, too. Many times the lower abdomen, so that I felt as though I had menstrual cramps. My neck and shoulders, always. My jaw, knees, wrists, ankles, feet and hands. After the sizzle-burn settled in one (or multiple) spots, it would last hours and hours. Of course, the more dairy foods I consumed (and I consumed a lot), the longer it would last. I didn’t know this at the time, but looking back it all makes perfect and absolute sense. The dairy consumption was creating an over-abundance of lactic acid, which rumbled through my system producing widespread pain, digestive disturbances, brain fog and extreme exhaustion.
The more dairy I ate, the lengthier the pain episodes became, until they were daisy-chained together into a continuous life of pain, crushing exhaustion, debilitating cognitive problems and having to live in very close proximity to a bathroom at all times.
Not one doctor ever asked me what my diet was like. Not one!! Amazing.
Once I Googled “lactic acid+fibromyalgia” I found a ton of information on this topic. It is a known fact that fibromyalgics have an impaired ability to process lactic acid as compared to
non-fibromyalgics. There’s a ton of information online about this. I just ignored it or overlooked it in the past, not really knowing what lactic acid was, or that it might be produced by consuming excessive amounts of dairy products.
Now comes the “I’m pissed off” part of the essay: Most fibromyalgics are women. As we all know, women are constantly encouraged to consume dairy products to avoid osteoporosis. All the ads on TV and magazines for yogurt and milk tout the importance of eating dairy to maintain healthy bones, ladies. Some go so far as to suggest that eating one serving of dairy per day will result in weight loss! (Don’t even get me started on those Boniva ads with Sally Field — if I told you what happened to my mother as a result of taking Actonel every week, you’d steer clear of that shit like it was poison!)
Ladies, I caution every one of you. If you suspect you have FM, or have been diagnosed with FM (or even CFS), keep a journal of what you’re eating. Are you eating a lot of dairy? What happens to you after you eat dairy products? Do you feel listless and in pain within the next couple of hours? Do you get gas and bloating? If you do, then consumption of dairy products could be contributing to or exacerbating your fibromyalgia. (Footnote: the same could be true of wheat products — don’t think that only pet foods have wheat gluten — just about every processed food we Americans eat is made with wheat gluten or milk! Do your homework!)
Let us not forget that FM and CFS symptoms exacerbate after exertion. For me, this happens after both physical and/or mental (emotional) exertion of any kind. The slightest exertion, and I am down for the count. Lactic acid is a substance that builds up in the muscles after exertion. It is most common in athletes, say marathoners for example, who “feel the burn” in their muscles, and may feel that burn for a day or two after exercise. Sound familiar? If you have FM or CFS, you know that if you exercise you pay the price for days afterwards. But what about cutting back on dairy? Could that help? Well, it did for me. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t recommend this for everyone, but it worked FOR ME.
For me, I am swearing off dairy for good. I take calcium supplements, and I exercise (and I am able to exercise again!!), so the worry about osteoporosis is not so great as to risk feeling like crap every day of my life. I don’t recommend this to everyone. I know that I was over-consuming dairy. It was my favorite food. Too much of anything is not good for anyone. Because I have been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since 1980, my main source of protein has been CHEESE. I put cheese on everything. I ate cheese with yogurt. Heck, I even ate cheese with cheese! Milk? I was not so hot on milk, except that I did put it in my coffee every morning. I now order my Dunkin’ Donuts black, and use soy milk at home (which I’ve always done anyway — the soy milk, I mean). It’s been tricky deciding what to put on my pasta, but I love a challenge in the kitchen, and I’m pretty good at working with what I’ve got when it comes to culinary creativity. Some of my best meals were created using whatever I had on-hand at the time.
I will not say that I am cured. I have all 18 of the “tender points” consistent with fibromyalgia. It’s too bad that the day I went to a rheumatologist to be evaluated for the tender points was a “good day” and I only had four that were tender enough to count. But, she also didn’t press hard enough to blanch her fingernail (which is what they’re supposed to do), so the jury is still out on that topic. I have also started taking MSM and glucosamine. I started that about a week before swearing off dairy, so I think the combo of all of these has produced a veritable “cure”. I’ll take it, no matter how temporary it is. I feel alive again for the first time in years.
To think that I was focusing on early retirement due to illness, trying desperately to get a doctor to diagnose me so that people around me would believe me when I told them I felt sick every day. And to think it was all just because of my favorite food.
I remember when I stopped drinking diet soda, I started calling it “evil.” Well, I will not call cheese and yogurt “evil” — they’ve been treasured friends my whole life. But what I will say is that the media and health industry’s insistence that adult women consume dairy so as to protect our fragile, brittle bone health may be a crock of shit. Between that and the pet food recall and other such things, we should all BEWARE of the bullshit we are being fed (psychologically) by these outlets. Watch out for yourselves, don’t mindlessly believe everything you hear. Consumption of dairy products could be the “mysterious” cause of fibromyalgia. Oh, they say, “No one knows what causes it.” Well of course not! If it could be caused by dairy products, then the dairy industry would go sour.
Don’t be so sure they “don’t know” what causes it. I think I may have a pretty good idea.
Kathleen Mueller is vice president of an international student travel company, and a canine enthusiast who enjoys writing about her dogs and her experience with undiagnosed chronic pain and fatigue. Visit her web site at www.k2k9.com