Dairy-Free = Pain-Free (for me)


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

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.


  1. I’m another sufferer of fibromyalgia. I love dairy, and have always drunk milk, eaten cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and in the last ten or more years have had increasingly severe symptoms. Crushing fatigue within an hour of eating dairy, rendering me incapacitated. It lasts for hours. I have tried getting off dairy several times, as it also plugs up my sinuses, causes post-nasal drip, gives me sinus infections and most of the fibromyalgia symptoms. You could poke me almost anywhere on my body from the neck down, and it would hurt. I always slid back into eating dairy. I am trying once again, as my fatigue is unmanageable. I can’t keep up with housework or my job demands adequately without taking frequent naps, and I get so stiff I can hardly walk. My back also hurts. I also understand from my chiropractor son who just went to a seminar on this that malic acid and magnesium break down the lactic acid in the system that cause much of the problem. Malic acid can be purchased as supplements as can magnesium. But he said that about a third of a liter of apple juice will give you about the same amount of malic acid. I already had the magnesium in 300mg tablets. I take two tablets a day, and I loaded up on many bottles of apple juice. After about 48 hours of not eating dairy and drinking the apple juice/taking the magnesium I feel a lot better. My back is hurting, but it has for years. The fatigue is almost gone. Be aware that foods contain dairy. I ate a donut at work and within a half hour I thought I was going to die of fatigue. It must have had milk or sour cream in it. Cakes do, too, as do pudding, banana bread, rolls, breads of various kinds, cream gravy, etc. Read the labels!

    • Lynn, I too was a huge dairy eater until about two years ago when I stopped. I’ve had slip ups though, but not often. My problem is my back and when I have dairy, I can barely walk too. Thanks for the information about the malic acid and magnesium. That is really good to know.

      • Charlotte Bates on

        You sound just like me im giving this ago ive been going to docs for 2 years and i still have no answers to my illness i to am a big dairy consumer thanks for sharing lynn

    • I can completely agree with you back in 2008 after giving birth to my son I grew horribly ill, I went from working out every day to not being able to get out of bed the next.
      I gained 20pds I’m two weeks my tummy swelled looking pregnant nauseous and sick muscle aches burning as if I had worked out way to much and I didn’t even lift a finger, my shoulders and neck hurt stiff like a slept wrong every day.
      The doctors miss diagnosed me with fibromyalgia and IBS and for years my symptoms got extremely worse .
      I found some info online about dairy and gluten all my symptoms matched up.

      With In a month of cutting both out of my diet I lost 20pds I was No longer tired, my hypoglycemia went away, my body aches and pain muscle and joint pain all went away, my body would swell hands and feet all went away my migraines Gone I was 110% better.

    • The above sounds like gluten/wheat intolerance. When you eat cake and donuts and feel miserable, don’t blame it on the dairy – it’s very likely the wheat flour. It’s very common to have both dairy and wheat allergy.

  2. Cow’s milk is for calves – humans drinking cow’s milk is udderly ridiculous! Milk-free for almost 3 weeks and pain-free and my scaly reptilian scalp cleared too! I had respiratory (shortness of breath and feeling like an elephant was standing on my chest) and dermatology issues (photo-reactive immune response on face for 5 months – mainly nose – dermatologist had to rule out Lupus). Months prior I collapsed while shopping with severe abdominal pains and hallucinating sweating profusely so much the paramedics couldn’t obtain a proper EKG without using a towel – I chalked it off to food poisoning. Doctors need to be more forthcoming and warn patients of the risks of consuming dairy products. Casein is implicated in prostate cancer and Cornell biochemist says milk induces metabolic acidosis in the body which then uses stored bone calcium to buffer the low pH resulting in less bone density. In otherwords, eat leafy green veggies to get your calcium and get a little sun to get vitamin D and give up milk if you don’t want osteoporosis! 48 yo male ovo-lacto-pesco-vegetarian for last 15 years now just pesco-vegetarian. I wish I knew about this earlier in my life – casein is one nasty protein implicated in expressing cancer in rats. Public health needs more clinical studies with humans measuring metabolic markers of dairy in the human body to mainstream awareness. With so many delicious alternatives to dairy it is so easy to go dairy free – moooove out of the way dairy – no more! There should be campaigns that say, Got Prostate Cancer? Got Osteoporosis? I like the Got Autism one as well. Got itchy skin? Got Chest Pains? I know this will turn people cynical – now milk is bad for us? Thanks Alisa Fleming for starting this site.

  3. I have been having very similar problems. I thought my life was ruined for good! I was exhausted and the muscle weakness feels absolutely debilitating. In fact I was starting to think I might have some very serious disease. My whole body felt like a “dead weight” to me with me barely being able to lift my arms to do anything…even to type on a computer. I also had terrible pain in my shoulders and neck. Actually I hurt “everywhere.” I think from reading your article that I may also be lactose intolerant, too. I have had little milk today and I am already beginning to feel better. Thanks again for a great article! There may really be some hope for me finally!

  4. Dairy has caused multiple issues with my health – extreme abdominal and intestinal discomfort, and even leading to multiple sores, scale-y skin, and terrible acne.
    It was the hardest thing to give up gluten and dairy, but I am so glad that I did. I’ve lost almost 50 pounds in the span of just under a year and I know much of it is attributed to my diet!
    Giving up dairy was one of the smartest decisions I’ve made and I’m so thankful for the community and support that I’ve received to help me through the transition. Also, I love that more people are going dairy free as the dairy-free alternatives grow and taste awesome!

    Thank you for the article – it was great!

  5. I’ve suffered from psoriatic arthritis for approximately 27 years. I’ve been taking painkillers and methotrexate. Then in June 2013 my brother suggested that I may be lactose intolerant. I looked up the symptoms in a medical book and some seemed to match. I stopped dairy the very next day and within 24 hours I was feeling incredible! The swollen, painful joints were easing, the bloating gone, the brain fog lifted and the chronic fatigue virtually non-existent. Even though I am elated with the results I cannot help but also feel bitter toward the GP’s I’ve seen over the years who never once suggested that I could have a food allergy or should be tested for one. This illness has blighted my life. I’ve been unable to work, have a family because of it. If my brother could figure out what was wrong with me why couldn’t trained medical professionals? And when I looked up psoriatic arthritis lactose intolerance on the net the information was all there for anyone to see – including doctors!

    • Pete, a blessing and frustration all in one; many of us are right there with you! I’m happy to hear that you have found what works now, and are feeling so much better.

  6. I am in the UK and had the same problems with doctors. I was just given massive doses of codiene, amitriptaline, ibuprofen etc… and told there was nothing wrong, jt was my mother who suggested cutting out dairy. It has helped massivly and I have been dairy free for 5 years now. Unfortunatly due to my hypermobility sydrome I still suffer a lot of chronic pain itis a lot better. My 1yr old daughter is the same as me and is entirely dairy free as she gets terribletummy pains with dairy.

  7. Hello Alisa,

    Thank you for your kind reply to my previous comment, I just popped in to let you know that tonight on the news here in NZ there has been a report produced from data collected that dairy is the leading cause of allergies in children over here…this has also been extrapolated back to other research data done in other countries. This is the link: http://tvnz.co.nz/lifestyle-news/dairy-most-common-child-food-allergy-in-nz-5433201. This I think is encouraging news if only to stop the various world dairy companies trying to tell us that it is us with the problem,….it isn’t us and our bodies that is the problem its the stuff in their products that hurt us. Hopefully this will encourage people with difficulties to stop questioning themselves and question the lemon.

    Enjoy this site very much, and thank you again Alisa.

  8. I’ve suffered from psoriatic arthritis for years. I love to lift weights to build strength and muscle. And with creeping psoriatic arthritis, it was quite depressing to feel debilitating pain from even holding a barbell with my hands. Even something as mundane as going inside my pants pocket to pull out my wallet were painful experiences.

    About a year ago, I went wheat-free, and I noticed some improvements. But by eliminating one source of inflammatory food (wheat) I compensated by greatly consuming more of another food group that I loved (cheese). So any improvements I briefly experienced by going wheat free was canceled by reaction to cheese, which I ate more of as a result.

    I decided to go dairy free last week, after waking up the day after I had eaten a grilled cheese sandwich (rice bread, so no wheat) and a plate of cheese nachos and I could barely open my hand, it’s as if it was deforming itself into a claw. I told myself that I had nothing left to lose by losing the dairy. It seemed like all of my “bad days” with PsA were occurring in conjunction after going on cheese binges.

    So I bought healthy foods as replacements for cheese–carrots, almonds. I felt a vast improvement only a couple of days after. And I could swear that those stubborn psoriatic skin lesions on my elbows are easing up.

    Anyway, I thought I would post my anecdote here in hopes that somebody out there on the internet finds this experience useful. If the improvements keep up, I’ll forgo my methotrexate injections forever. Methotrexate does help, but it causes severe nausea.

  9. I am going to try going dairy free. I have FM and arthritis. Lately, the pain is unbearable everyday. I am tired of just adding another pill. I don’t have insurance so I go to a clinic which I am thankful for but they can only do so much. Thank you for your article.

  10. hi, happened across this site after seeking out “why does dairy hurt me?”, I have been dairy free for three years however every now and then (like this evening) I succumb to a fresh brewed stove top coffee with cream, and every time pay the price. Its crazy just that small amount sets my system into utter chaos, its two o’clock in the morning with no sign of the stress to my re- flux system abating or the turmoil in my lower gut. The benefits of living dairy free far out way any “supposed” loss of calcium from consuming dairy, from what I can make out the calcium dairy story is a lemon and does more harm than good, plenty of other foods to get calcium from. One very unexpected benefit of going dairy free was the complete disappearance of chilblains from my feet/toes for the past two winters, must have taken a good year to get all that muck out of my system enough to be chilblain free, suffered with them since my late teens, took medication for them every winter (am 52 now) but these last two winters nothing, not even a tingle, and hence no medication needed. I wish everybody who is giving going dairy free a go every success for an improved sense of physical well being, its a for gone conclusion really that you will feel much better within a matter of weeks just listen to your body, it does talk to you.

  11. Great article! I had almost all of the same symptoms for years before I finally figured out dairy was causing most of my problems. I have since given up nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers) also and feel even better. Most of my pain and all of my bloating is gone. The nightshades also deplete your body of calcium which affects your teeth and bones. Giving up dairy, potatoes and tomatoes was hard to do, especially since I’ve been gluten free for 5 years now, but was worth being pain free. Now I sleep better and started exercising again and lost over 20 pounds.


  12. Ps .. I have told many doctors that I feel like my muscles are vibrating on the inside .. A bemused condescending look was the only response .. Once again thank you !!!

  13. Hiya .. I am sitting here googling chronic muscle pain after eating dairy . I have been dairy and wheat free for about two years .. I have recently made enquiries re FM I am sick of seeing doctors but am off to a specialist next week .. Tonight I ate a cream sauce on my pasta as a treat for the first time in years .. The pain in my shoulders which is generally brought on by a drop in temperature is excruciating this evening .. I am so glad to find your site and the connection between FM and dairy … I don’t feel like I’m losing my mind .. Thanks for your honesty !!!

  14. It is such a relief to find this article! I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 5 years now. Of course I didn’t do it the “healthy way” at first (I was too disgusted with tofu to even try it.) So my diet mainly consisted of everything with CHEESE on it.

    Over the years, I started feeling so fatigued and drained of life. My body was hurting, cramping and throbbing everywhere for seemingly no reason at all and I’ve had insomnia for as long as I could remember.
    I thought it had to do with all the stress that was going in my life. I was a high school student moving out for the first time, going to college, moving far away from my family, trying to pay bills with a shitty part-time job and balance school work in the meantime. But after all that was said and done, I graduated school three years ago, the stress had lessened but the pain and symptoms have not.

    I must have spent months of research and $$$$ on medical bills just for the doctors to tell me “nothing is wrong with you.” I felt so discouraged, knowing that I would live the rest of my life in pain and my family, friends, and doctors thinking that I’m lying about all my symptoms.

    All I wanted was to know what it felt like to wake up one morning and just feel …”good”. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been without pain. It started getting me really depressed to the point where I just didn’t want to live anymore, knowing that I would always feel this way and no one could help. (yes, it is THAT bad)

    I’m so happy I’ve found this article, knowing that I’m not the only one out there feeling like this and that there IS some-what of a cure for people like us.

    Please keep sharing your stories, you might just end up saving someone’s life.
    You’ve saved mine.
    Thank you.

  15. As I was reading your post I kept checking to see if I had written. Except for the woman’s problems. The pain was exactly as you described. I had pulled over on the highway because I could not use my left hand. I pulled over and applied steroids to my hand. Once it was usable I looked up dairy and pain and found you. I have had numerous operations and wondered why I felt good for a couple of days after getting home and then right back to the pain. I thought it was the antibiotics but now realize its the dairy. Eating ice cream sometimes twice a day is killing me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. You have a newmember of your fan club. Thank you

  16. Richelle Deharde on

    PS on another note, I suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome years ago. Lived in Louisiana where lots of chemical idustries exist. Anyway, after moving from that toxic area, I began researching ‘toxic cleanse’. The product that I used was Isagenix, it worked wonders but it can be costly. Now, I go to the All -natural heath food store (yes, there is a diffence! I do not recommend Walmart for serious sufferers, get the whole food products that your body needs). Anyway, The local healthfood stores (again, not a chain like vita-world, gn-mall)they will have various toxic cleanses that can purge built up toxins from major organs. Most of my symptoms were gone within a few months and I’m healtier now (except for pain in my joints) than I’ve ever been. PS on a final note, most cleanses work with your system and do not cause frequent potty visits.

  17. Hi,
    I am here like the rest of you because i have googled my symptoms in trying to find an answer for what has been bugging me for the last 4 years!.

    I am a 36yr old man and used to be very active and mobile. For whatever reason i started struggling with back pain about 4 years ago, it started in my lower back/buttocks and has progressively got worse. I also have lots of tension around my neck area and most of my joints feel tender ,this last year my knee’s and legs have started to ache for no real reason.

    i have ruled out the main things with countless visits to the doctors which have ruled out all the usual things including (bloods, MRI, Celiac test, colonoscopy). All normal!, in fact my doctors must think i am mad as my test results are always good!.

    Over the years my lifestyle has changed, i don’t really do any sports anymore (i have tried but i just don’t feel mentally strong enough to play football with chronic back pain), i struggle to walk to work (my knees feel inflamed), Because of this I get depressed and struggle to handle stress.

    I am convinced my problem is food related or at least a problem with my immune system, i know this because i get rashes and hives and this is a sign of a allergic reaction.

    Overall i feel 60+ not 36, so i have decided to cut out dairy to see what the results are. i shall post an update on here when i have been going 3 weeks or so…

  18. The description above was exactly what I have been suffering from , from the past seven years. Oh my gush, everyone thought I was crazy. The doctors could not diagnosed anything. I had all sort of blood test, scan etc

    I heard from a friend at work to elliminate diary from my food. I just tried for week and for the first time the pains all over my body and the bone crushing had reduced. What a miracle. This si what brought me to this page. I googled dairy products cause of joint and muscle pain. I am not bothered of going for the test because the GP never listen to me. All the do is claim tey are experts and my life was wasting away. Thanks again. I realy don’t know how I should write my story for all of you to undertsnad but I thought I was going to die early but now I am rest assured i have a long life to live.

  19. Gerald Landry on

    Alisa, you are such a blessing to post this essay. I suffered CF and FM from a methanol x-p at work. Methanol metabolizes to Formic acid in our liver, which may cause burning metallic tongue, the biggest complaint with individuals suffering aspartame disease. Then in our mitochondria (Cellular energy furnace) to lactic acid. This can cause CF then at high levels FM pain.
    My theory is cow dairy (moo) is first cousins to cellular lactic acid. As an experiment try goat (bah) dairy, or sheep. In Minnesota i have witnessed a sign in a dairy section advising people that are lactose intolerant that goat or sheep dairy products may not cause complications. I was advised by a Naturopath in Canada that it may work. it did. I was moo free for 1 1/2 years before i tried goat dairy.
    Here is the link to MN Poison Control showing the metabolic bio-chemistry and cellular metabolism.

    There are other dietary modifications that may relieve FM, can share later.

  20. I just eliminated dairy from my diet and the muscle weakness in my legs has disappeared as well as my chronic Achilles tendonitis. I am blown away! I felt sick every day for 3 months until this week! I ha e also eliminated wheat, but I am positive that dairy was causing me much muscle pain….

      • Richelle Deharde on

        Thank you for sharing this. I’m going to try it. I’ve tried everything else..massage, chiropractic, excercise, yoga, oxygen therapy, etc. but the results are only temporary, and the paing always returns. One thing that I would suggest to you is taking a candida cleanse supplement. Yeast can thrive in a body long after the original cause (often dairy) is removed. Yeast also causes surging/crawling feelings in the unexpected areas. For me it was in the bronchial area, and mimmicked bronchitis.
        Anyway, thank you for sharing. I’ll let you know the results in a week or so.

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