Dairy & Multiple Sclerosis- Protect Your Brain

I really like cheese. I love ice cream, and I would eat pizza regularly if I thought I could get away with it. When my pain management doctor told me that dairy caused inflammation and could be contributing to my pain, I didn’t want to hear it. I felt I had lost enough due to MS and I didn’t want to give up anything else.

After two years and countless anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, pain killers, and more than 12 epidural/cortisone shots in various parts of my body, I had only temporary relief. I was losing the war against chronic pain and became desperate for relief.  I began to investigate what was in milk and why it was especially bad to consume if you had Multiple Sclerosis.

The idea that there is a relationship between MS and cow’s milk is not new. A 1992 study reported a significant correlation between the two after studying MS prevalence and dairy consumption all over the world.1 Other studies suggest autoimmunity and myelin breakdown through molecular mimicry.2,3,4,5 The immune system can’t distinguish between self and non-self.   Butyrophilin, a protein found in milk fat is very similar to the myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein, which is believed to trigger the autoimmune reaction in MS. In animals, Butyrophilin induces inflammation in the central nervous system and stimulates myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein-specific T cell responses.6 “So, consumption of milk in MS patients may have a possible role in the progression and relapse of disease.”7

According to Dr. Amy Meyers, “Dairy is one of the most inflammatory foods in our modern diet, second only to gluten.”8 Several thousand years ago a genetic mutation occurred in some breeds of cow and their A2 protein changed into A1 protein. This is significant because A2 protein binds with another beta-protein of casein, BCM7 (beta-casomorphin7), and keeps it from entering the milk.9  A1 protein does not prevent BCM7 from entering the milk, and BCM7, which does not naturally occur in people, has been linked to autoimmune disease and neurological impairment.10 Milk containing A1 protein has been associated with a decline on the Subtle Cognitive Impairment Test, affecting cognitive processing speed and accuracy.11 Most commercial milk contains A1 protein.

Milk consists of proteins, fats, carbs, and nutrients like calcium, protein, iodine, B vitamins, and potassium. Lactose is the natural sugar in milk and casein is a major protein. For the intolerant, both can trigger digestive issues and inflammatory response. Experts agree that this might be due to cows being fed diets of grain and corn. The result is high levels of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids in dairy products.12

Science is divided on how hormones and pesticides in cow’s milk may affect people.  We do know that pregnant cows pass hormones naturally into their milk raising the estrogen levels of humans.  They are also injected with genetically engineered hormones to produce more milk. Supposedly humans can’t absorb these hormones, but the EU and several other countries have banned them.13 Pesticides, PCB’s and dioxins are toxins that the body does not easily expel and after time can reach harmful levels in the body. This can affect the immune and central nervous systems.  Dairy has also been linked with ovarian, breast, and prostate cancers.14

Do we need milk?  Humans presumably achieved adequate nutrition long before we domesticated cows and have no nutritional requirement for animal milk.15 We can get calcium from salmon, sardines, soy, white beans, kale, and calcium-fortified orange juice.

Dr. Michael Klaper states, “It’s not natural for humans to drink cow’s milk. Human milk is for humans. Cow’s milk is for calves. You have no more need of cow’s milk than you do rat’s milk, horse’s milk, or elephant’s milk. Cow’s milk is a high-fat fluid exquisitely designed to turn a 65lb baby calf into a 400lb cow. That’s what cow’s milk is for!”16

I learned there is a scientific link between MS and cow milk.  So, I swapped out dairy for coconut, hemp, or nut milk alternatives.  Cheese was difficult.  I found a lot of non-dairy cheese had weird ingredients and were kind of gross. Some of the nut-based cheese was good but it spoiled very quickly. Going out to dinner or to parties became problematic. Being either gluten-free or dairy-free is challenging enough but if you’re both, eating out is just plain complicated. Still, my health is worth the hassle. I can’t say I’m 100% dairy-free because I occasionally eat sheep or goat cheese, but I’m working on it. I admit that going dairy-free did not help my chronic pain but maybe it will protect my brain.  MS can take a lot from you, but controlling my diet is something I can do to safeguard my health.

Have you given up dairy to improve your health? What are your thoughts on the subject? Please let us know in the comments.

1 Malosse D, Perron H, Sasco A, Seigneurin JM., “Correlation between milk and dairy product consumption and multiple sclerosis prevalence: a worldwide study”, Neuroepidemiology. 1992;11(4-6):304-12. PMID: 1291895  www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1291895

2 Mañá P, Goodyear M, Bernard C, Tomioka R, Freire-Garabal M, Liñares D., “Tolerance induction by molecular mimicry: prevention and suppression of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis with the milk protein butyrophilin”, Int Immunol.  2004 Mar;16(3):489-99. PMID: 14978022. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14978022

3 Winer S, Astsaturov I, Cheung RK, Schrade K, Gunaratnam L, Wood DD, Moscarello MA, O’Connor P, McKerlie C, Becker DJ, Dosch HM, “T cells of multiple sclerosis patients target a common environmental peptide that causes encephalitis in mice”,  J Immunol. 2001 Apr 1;166(7):4751-6. PMID: 11254737. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11254737

4Andreas Stefferl, Anna Schubart, Maria Storch, Aminullah Amini, Ian Mather, Hans Lassmann and Christopher Linington, “Butyrophilin, a Milk Protein, Modulates the Encephalitogenic T Cell Response to Myelin Oligodendrocyte Glycoprotein in Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis”,  J Immunol September 1, 2000, 165 (5) 2859-2865; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4049/jimmunol.165.5.2859.  ] Nutrients 2014,6   1), 15-36; doi:10.3390/nu6010015.www.jimmunol.org/content/165/5/2859

5 Aristo Vojdani,  Datis Kharrazian, “The Prevalence of Antibodies against Wheat and Milk Proteins in Blood Donors and Their Contribution to Neuroimmune Reactivities”,  Nutrients 2014, 6(1), 15-36; doi:10.3390/nu6010015 Received: 16 October 2013 / Revised: 6 December 2013 / Accepted: 10 December 2013 / Published: 19 December 2013.http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/nu6010015)

6Deborah Mitchell, “Multiple Sclerosis, Cow’s Milk and Dairy”, Nov 26 2014 – 9:38am. https://www.emaxhealth.com/1275/multiple-sclerosis-cows-milk-and-dairy

7 Ashtari F, Jamshidi F, Shoormasti RS, Pourpak Z, Akbari M., “Cow’s milk allergy in multiple sclerosis patients”,  J Res Med Sci. 2013 Mar;18(Suppl 1):S62-5. PMID: 23961290.  www.ncbi/nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3743324/

8Meyers,Amy M.D., www.amymeyersmd.com/2013/04/the-dangers-of-dairy

9 Sodhi, M., Mukesh,M., Kataria, R.S., Mishra, B.P., & Joshii, B.K.  ”Milk proteins and human health: A1/A2 milk hypothesis”, Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 16 (5), 856. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3475924/

10   Monika Sodhi, Manishi Mukesh, Ranjit S Kataria, Bishnu P Mishra, Balwinder K JoshiiIndian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Year 2012, Volume 16, Issue 5 [p. 856] DOI: 10.4103/2230-8210.100685 PMID: 23087884. http://doi.org/10.4103/2230-8210.100685

11  Jianqin S, Leiming X, Lu X, Yelland GW, Ni J, Clarke AJ., “Effects of milk containing only A2 beta casein versus milk containing both A1 and A2 beta casein proteins on gastrointestinal physiology, symptoms of discomfort, and cognitive behavior of people with self-reported intolerance to traditional cows’ milk.”  Nutr J. 2016 Apr 2;15:35. doi: 10.1186/s12937-016-0147-z. Erratum in: Nutr J. 2016;15(1):45. PMID: 27039383 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4818854/

 12  (www.thepurplecarrot.com/blog/dairy-inflammation-connection)

13 Food Sense Nutrition Counseling, “Why is Dairy Inflammatory?” January 25, 2016. www.foodsense.net/why-is-dairy-inflammatory/

14  Physicians Committe for Responsible Medicine, “Health Concerns about Dairy Products” www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/health-concerns-about-dairy-products

15 Julia M. W. Wong, PhD, RD; Cara B. Ebbeling, PhD; Lisa Robinson, MPH, RD; Henry A. Feldman, PhD; David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, “Effects of Advice to Drink 8 Cups of Water per Day in Adolescents With Overweight or Obesity: A Randomized Clinical Trial”, AMA Pediatr. 2017; 171(5):e170012. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.0012.  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/1704826

16 Dave Rietz, “Dangers of Milk and Dairy Products-The facts”, www.notmilk.com, 7-6-2, retrieved 7-30- 18, https://rawnut.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/humans-milk-is-for-humans-cows-milk-is-for-calves/

11 thoughts on “Dairy & Multiple Sclerosis- Protect Your Brain”

  1. Is organic Greek yogurt as problematic? I haven’t had it since May, but would like to reintroduce it back into my diet.

  2. Thank you so much, Traci, for writing this excellent article! I thought I was safe when I switched to goat’s milk yogurt. Now I know better, and will continue my search.

  3. Excellent article, Traci! I’ve been gluten and dairy free now for over 3 years (although it took me over 6 months to actually get there!) and find I can tolerate a small amount of gluten occasionally but diary really fires up the inflammatory process. I thought of trying to introduce some cheese and am busy researching for any cheese that does not contain butryphillin but it appears that any dairy product contains it so have to stick with the nut or soy alternatives! As you say, this MS really takes a lot away from us…:(
    After 18 years of living with it, it does start to wear one down every now and again!! Gotta remind myself that things could be worse and many people live with worse…helps put it in perspective!!

  4. Hi Traci! Great article! I have had RRMS since 2003. The disease was progressing steadily until I gave up dairy 8 years ago. This one change stopped the disease progression in its tracks! My last 3 MRIs were “no change” and I even got function back right after I gave up the dairy. Sometimes I feel like I have won the lottery. I can’t be the only one out there, but no one I know with MS is willing to give up the dairy. At the same time, I know folks that are using their life-savings and subjecting themselves to serious side-effects by going to Russia, Sweden or Mexico to have their immune systems “restarted” to get the same effect that I had by just cutting out dairy. We really need some solid research on this topic. Giving up dairy may not work for everyone with MS, but it could be a lifesaver for some.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story! That’s amazing to hear that not only did disease progression stop but that you got back function! YAY!!Well done! I get why it’s hard to make the commitment to go dairy-free. I didn’t until I understood the science of why and how it affected MS, and I still struggle. Mostly with pizza, which is ridiculous in the scheme of things! After about a year and a half of being dairy-free, 2 lesions on my spine disappeared from the MRI. I was so happy to have proof that this worked! I totally agree we need more research about this so that people understand the effects of inflammation and molecular mimicry on the immune system. I’m going to share your comments with our support group:-)

  5. I just read your article, Well done. I was diagnosed with MS in 2008. Over a year ago I went Dairy free, gluten free, and eat clean. It’s a chore but I haven’t felt better. Mostly all my symptoms are gone. When I do eat these things I pay for it. Pain, fatigue, and headache come back. I can not stress how much diet plays a role in MS care. I know there is no one diet out there for MS but if there were Gluten and Dairy would definitely not be in it.
    Thank you for this article

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