Dairy withdrawal (or “detox”) is what happens when you stop consuming dairy. Withdrawal may or may not cause symptoms depending on the individual. Typical symptoms are relatively minor, and usually subside in about a week.
So even though it’s not a medically documented condition, there’s probably some truth in it.
I didn’t drink much dairy before going vegan, so it makes sense that I didn’t experience anything of the sort.
However, I’ve read many anecdotes and summarized the main causes for dairy withdrawal and what to expect.
Table of Contents
Dairy Withdrawal Symptoms
You won’t find “dairy” withdrawal in a medical textbook, so there’s not a definitive list of what to expect.
However, there are many anecdotes floating around that I’ve summarized.
Here are the most common dairy withdrawal symptoms:
- Sleeping issues
- Runny nose
- Stomach Issues
The Cause of Dairy Withdrawal Symptoms
When you’re used to having anything on a regular basis for a long time, not having it will feel uncomfortable.
There’s a good chance you’ll have physical cravings for dairy products, plus some psychological ones as well from the habits you’ve built up.
Additionally, lots of research on gut bacteria show that they may also affect cravings. Your gut has different bacteria that can break down different types of foods.
If you cut out a food that you’re used to eating a lot of, you’ll have a lot of bacteria that essentially needs to “die off,” and be replaced by bacteria better suited to breaking down whatever you replaced the dairy with.
The most likely cause of dairy withdrawal symptoms are a combination of breaking a psychological dependency (i.e. habit), as well as from changes in gut flora that can significantly affect several areas of health.
Is Dairy Addictive?
While researching this topic, I saw many claims that dairy has an addictive component.
In particular, it has a compound called casomorphin, which can act like an opiod.
This came up several times on forums and weakly-sourced health blogs.
In reality, this exact subject has been studied numerous times and the conclusion is always that casomorphin is not addictive.
Consequently, systemically administered β-casomorphin has very limited or no reinforcing properties similar to those of morphine.
Again, any feelings of addiction are likely just related to any habits of eating dairy in the past.
Still difficult to deal with, but not on the same level as something like opioids or quitting smoking.
Despite some claims, research shows that dairy is not addictive. Cravings are simply due to habit and/or liking the taste.
How to Deal With Dairy Cravings
To minimize your cravings, start by eating the same types of foods that you’re used to. Make changes as small as possible.
For example, you can use non-dairy milk in cereal, and you can find plenty of vegan cheeses for anything you’re used to eating with cheese in it.
Additionally, try to get some sun.
You may be used to getting vitamin D from cheese or milk. If you still eat meat, this probably won’t be an issue, but if you’re going vegetarian or vegan, you might find your vitamin D stores getting low.
Vitamin D helps stabilize your mood and is important for many physiological functions.
There are many non-dairy milk products these days that taste similar to the actual thing. These can make the transition far easier. Finally, for those that consume a lot of dairy regularly, slowly reducing how much milk they consume can be easier to tolerate than fully dropping it.
How Long Does Dairy Withdrawal Last?
Again, this isn’t something that has been studied by researchers, so we’ll have to base the answer on anecdotes.
Most of the stories I read talked about having headaches and a lack of energy for about a week before they stopped.
However, I also read a couple stories where it took 3-4 weeks before symptoms fully went away.
If you use appropriate dairy substitutes, and keep your fat intake at healthy levels, you should be able to minimize any dairy withdrawal symptoms.
The symptoms of dairy withdrawal typically subside in a week, but could take longer if you’re used to eating a lot of dairy.
Effects of Removing Dairy From Your Diet
I couldn’t find any good studies that looked specifically at the results of results of removing dairy from your diet.
However, I’ve read plenty of anecdotes about it improving acne and skin conditions like eczema.
No guarantee, but a potential benefit that might give you a little extra motivation to get through any rough patches of dairy withdrawal.
There aren’t many scientifically proven benefits of removing dairy from your diet (there could be in the future). But there is some evidence and many anecdotes that claim that removing dairy improves skin quality, acne, and even energy levels. This will of course vary significantly from person to person.