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. Hi, this article and your comments have been very helpful. I wanted to see if anybody had had similar symptoms to me which I’m starting to suspect could be dairy. After eating wheat sugar and dairy or sometimes just one of the above I get a really stiff neck on one side which sometimes leads to terrible migraines with confusion. Been checked at the doctor et cetera et cetera don’t know what it is et cetera et cetera I’m now off Gluten but got the stiff neck again today so if anybody could let me know if they’ve ever had similar neck and shoulder related headaches which sometimes last days and sometimes accompanied by sickness, that would be a big help thank you.

    • I can’t speak to your exact scenario, and haven’t seen many studies on the topic yet, but have had many readers report headache and migraine issues when they consume dairy (dairy, in particular cheese is a known “common” migraine trigger). It’s possible that these are stemming from muscle stiffness in the neck. I have also had several readers report pain (arthritic type or muscular) from dairy consumption. Again, this is anecdotal, and should not be construed as medical or dietary advice.

  2. In trying looking for an answer I just found this website. Got I small story to tell thou. I’m a guy 48, was living with chronic back pain for many years. I do have arthritis and pinched nerve lower back as my medical condition. Can’t begin to tell how many injections I got, they just carry you a few blocks but never to your destination, being out of pain.
    Almost got a surgery, the pain was excruciating. After a few, I got to a great doctor that gave good advises. Curiously, and by a hutch, I decided to not do the surgery and experiment with the way I eat, specifically the dairy. I cut all dairy, fry food and red meat religiously for a month. Mostly I ate rice, beans, chicken, fish and some vegetable. I changed my Lactaid on my morning coffee for soy milk.

    To my surprise it worked!, I noticed the pain slowly siphoning away, by the 3rd week it was evident something was working, I’ve been 10 months no chronic pain, no pain period, life living as normal.

    From a person having 12 years of back pains this was remarkable, still very incredulous, so
    as soon as I try again into old bad habits just to see what happens, I quickly noticed the nerve pains, the lack of energy, the lower back bothering, the joint pains began resurfacing, so there I knew.

    I re-incorporated red meat and some fry food into my food but very controlled, but NEVER AGAIN cow milk and/or dairy products ( and I was drinking “Lactaid” for those lactose intolerance). ‘We are what we eat’ that cliché phrase I heard so many times it became super real for me.

  3. christa d. wheeler on

    For the first time I don’t feel alone. I have been sick for a number of years and have dealt with a number of confused Drs. Today I just found out I have a dairy protein allergy. I wondered if others had the chronic pain, bloating, etc. too and WOW! I am so glad i found this site!!! It all makes since now.

  4. OMG…I have been suffering for years.. My legs would hurt and my body would experience a shorting out electrical feeling though my body. The electrical feeling would only last for about 10 – 30 seconds but never the less it was unnerving . At first I thought it was my toothpaste. It took me two years to finally realize it was dairy. And once I stopped it. No more pain & no more of my body feeling like it had electric running through it. I am able to do small amount of cream for my coffee in the morning and once in a while no more then an ounce of cheese here and there. Finding this blog is better sweet..I am happy that I now know the cause and why but at the same time… I don’t wish this on anyone. Also my extremely flaky scalped has cleared up after stopping the dairy.
    Thank you Alisa for having this blog.

  5. Jette O'Connor on

    What a relief to read someone else describing the symptoms I have felt the last 15-20 years.
    Like an unexplainable electric current running through your blood and coursing muscle pain.
    I have been feeling fantastic after giving up all dairy for the last 8 months.
    I gave it up not for health reasons but to stop cruelty to animals. So I wasn’t expecting my life to change.
    Yesterday pain, bloating and gasses all returned. I thought I was coming down with flue until I remembered the cheese sandwich I ate 2 days ago.
    At least I know I’ll be fine again tomorrow.
    I just want anyone who suffers muscle and joint pain to really take this seriously.

  6. Omar Biltaji on

    Believe it or not for a while I have been feeling sleepy and tired throughout the day. I also suffered from a lower back pain and chest pain. I did not understand where this pain came from. I also suffered gasses on a daily basis. I am a hard core coffee drinker. I always drank Nescafé with Coffee Mate and Sugar. I couldn’t drink any type of coffee without milk or Coffee Mate.
    One of my friends is a Doctor and he recommended that I stop drinking Coffee Mate I did that and the back pain stopped. But I still couldn’t drink my coffee without milk so I switched to condense milk. Apparently the pain returned.
    Two days ago I stopped drinking condense milk and the pain stopped again. I don’t feel sleepy throughout the day and the gasses were reduced dramatically. I am shocked of the outcome cause I have been drinking coffee with milk for years and I did not suffer from pain! I think this happened recently 8 months ago.
    Today I look at Milk as narcotics and I will never drink it again. I don’t want the pain back and I am feeling lighter now!
    To be honest I miss the taste of coffee with Milk. But I will be tough and forget that it ever existed in my life!

  7. Pamela Smith on

    Has it occurred to any of us that women across India who do not drink cow’s milk (or use its associated products) get their daily calcium needs fulfilled from the leafy greens they eat?

  8. Grace Gallagher on

    OMG I’m over the moon to find this interesting have lupus raynauds sjorgens arthritis n fibro outve nowhere healthy one day n bang I’m gluten free 6 months but still very sick so mUchida so I let them open my stomach last week nothing found off dairy day one not great but definitely not as sick tummy wise im definitely going to do this see if this is my problem 8m constipated bloated n feeling like I’ve a massive hangover everyday I can’t function thanks so much for this can’t believe dairy could cause all this.x

  9. Elnora Frances Norton on

    I was on a 21 day elimination diet. Today I reintroduced dairy ( one serving cottage cheese) . By evening severe right leg pain like I had before starting diet. I was constantly craving butter milk most always before. Glad I only reintroduced one item! I’m convinced it’s dairy! I also had numbness problems before.

  10. Great article, glad to see people are finally waking up.

    I’m 24, have dropped out of every educational program I started, couldn’t hold a job longer than a few weeks due to anxiety and had zero social contacts due to my debilitating panic attacks in social(even without anyone around) situations.

    I’ve tried benzodiazepines, amphetamines, antihistaminergics and antidepressants. None made me feel any different, in fact they only excerberated my general malaise and mental retardation. Yeah. Try telling that to any doctor without them calling you out on being a hypochondriac.

    By coincidence I was unable to buy any dairy products like my usual gallon of milk, as my fridge had broken down.
    After a couple of days I started to magically go to bed at the appropriate time.. as opposed to the usual 2-3 AM beer-induced pass-out(couldn’t even get myself to shower due to the crippling anxiety and depression).
    Then a few days after that I started to feel this primal urge to go out and exercise, socialize, get a job.. Actually give a sh*t about my health, my dreams and aspirations. I was alive, and felt ”synced” with the universe for the first time in my life.. it was as if I was on the most amazing euphoria-inducing drug..
    except I was completely sober.

    I didn’t have a clue what had changed, but who cares right? Time to live my life.

    One week later my fridge got fixed after I’d taken on some odd jobs(previously an impossible feat).
    So that evening I went to the grocery store and stocked up on all my old regulars, yogurt for breakfast, milk with lunch, butter to cook with.
    The next morning, as I take my first scoop of yogurt, I feel that all too familiar sense of dread coming over me.. the anxiety was back, my nose was stuffed, my vision blurred and the scariest part was.. that the mental fog rolled in within minutes, once again causing me to enter zero-logic mode and find comfort in my precious alcohol.
    This was both the best and the worst moment in my life, as I had finally found what had been paralyzing my mind and body all of my life. Dairy.

    It’s been two weeks since that morning, and I’m obviously dairy-free, happy, full of life and already working five days a week and taking online courses to finally get my degree.

    I haven’t touched alcohol since, nor any other substance. I was able to quit smoking within three days, as I miraculously(sarcasm) was able to excert actual willpower for once. I am in control now.

    I wish I could share my story with everyone, as I am positive there are thousands if not millions of other people in the exact same state I’d been in all my life.
    Doctors refusing to believe them(no wonder, when there isn’t anything actually wrong with your body). People abandoning them as you endlessly dissappoint them and give nothing back as your anxiety prevents you from initiating any genuine social contact.

    All it takes is a week, and you’ll know. You will never look back.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story Basil! These threads reach many, so I’m sure your story will help immensely! And congratulations on finding your health nemesis, something so many people have yet to do.

    • Carlos E Anzoategui on

      Bless your heart. That is me. I felt exactly as you described it until one week ago. I had the bomb explode – pizza loaded with cheese and milk. How disgusting. I felt so sick and about to die. I had felt it before but not at that scale. I went cold turkey and have eliminated all dairy thank god. Feel much better but still in the process. Thank you for your story.

  11. I have almost the same exact story, except that I got tested and found that I also have an allergy to milk/dairy. Have you been tested for allergies as well? I am now almost pain free after stopping all dairy and gluten. I was on tons of pain meds before.

    • I am curious what testing you used for allergy, as so far I am aware no test is reliable. Especially in the medical profession, They havent got a clue, the barium test doesnt allow for delayed reaction for exampe!! I have been severely allergic to milk products since the age of eight ( free school milk used to make me fall deep asleep, drugged and lethargic in class) 40 years later tests still prove negative!!!
      The only one that showed milk was kinesiology but i even suspect i already told them beforehand.
      For me also white flour, white rice and processed foods + raw tomato.
      So many sites about milk allergy but none about the fastest ways to clear the symtoms and pain the following day.For me nothing works except fasting on fruit and water.

      • The gold standard that most doctors use for testing is still an elimination diet. There aren’t any foolproof tests for non-IgE food allergies. As for clearing symptoms, if you are reacting to milk proteins, then it will take until the protein clears your system according to most doctors. There aren’t any speedy tricks that I’m aware of.

  12. I’m curious if you ever figured out what caused the tingling in your neck and shoulders? This post seems to mirror a lot that has happened with me in my recent years and the shoulder and neck thing is the hardest to alleviate. Just wondering if you solved that mystery?

  13. Hey all. Gluten, nightshades, beans, nuts may also cause inflammation which may exacerbate FM – research the ‘auto-immune protocol’ it’s an elimination diet and will help you identify your triggers. Very helpful and saved my life! Once you have one auto-immune problem, you’re 80% likely to get another one. Merry Christmas and a healthy happy 2016 to you all

  14. Same symptoms for me.. Burning legs , hands, it does feels like acid running through my veins this very second.tonight after drinking eggnog!! So very painful. I know better. Been hurting like this since I was s kid. My daughter and niece both have it. It’s definitely the dairy. However I am also strongly allergic to wheat. Haven’t had wheat in a long time but slip up with dairy then I pay severely !

  15. I get very uncomfortable pain in my back muscles which i thought was stress related. I read a very interesting book called It Starts With Food which goes into extreme detail about what all types of foods do to your body and Dairy is one of them. So i stopped dairy for 2 weeks and the pain disappeared. I notice you still seem to have some other issues. Try stopping sugars for a while. Sugar in the forma of many different carbs causes systematic inflammation which is the primary suspect of many issues that people have. I also stopped sugars for a while and i have never felt so alive.

  16. Well-written and insightful article. What you said about lactose intolerance symptoms was exactly what I experienced from gluten intolerance. I especially got what you meant when you said you could do only *one thing* – – that was me! Now it seems milk products are no longer my friend. I have to do more testing on that, but it’s almost a moot point – – I decided to go vegan at the beginning of the year and it was just the milk I have in my coffee and occasionally when I’m out, ut I think all that has to stop now. Thank you for this article is the pain connectionIs what I needed to find out about.

  17. To say FM could be caused by eating dairy is like saying a cold could be caused by going out in cold weather with wet hair. It is quite a reckless admission. Moreover, the casein in dairy products is equally as intolerant to FM sufferers as the lactose. And in the case of soy milk, soy milk is definitely not recommended as a viable cow’s milk replacement for FM sufferers.

  18. Dairy is an inflammation an mucus causing “food”. I have had all of my six children sensitive to it through my breast milk. In my research and experience i can say its not the lactose thatso many are sensitive to but the casein. This is often why dairy aids only work for so long ad the body appears to become unaffected by them. Dairy crept back into my life after feeding my babies and i notice weight gain bloat an more recently a hot burning nerve pain as well as tingly numbness in my arms at night when im sleeping. For better or worse it looks like im going to have to be dairy free again just so I can sleep. And FYI all those dairy products that are WIC approved have been found to have higher concentrations of casein than any of the other cheeses on the market.

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