Dairy Withdrawal: Cause and Duration

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Just like meat withdrawal, many new vegans claim to experience dairy withdrawal.

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.

Ditching Dairy is a Big Change for Body and Mind

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.

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.

How to Deal With Dairy Cravings

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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.

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.

About the author

Dale C.

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance writer. Trying to do my small part in making the world better by writing about the wonderful world of veganism.

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