Dairy Withdrawal: Symptoms From Dairy Detox

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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.

Just like meat withdrawal, dairy withdrawal is common in many new vegans.

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.

Dairy Withdrawal Symptoms

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:

  • Cravings
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping issues
  • Runny nose
  • Hunger
  • 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.

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.

SUMMARY

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

soy milk

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.

SUMMARY

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.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.

4 comments

  • Dale, I wish I’d seen this article before going off dairy “cold turkey” ten days ago.
    I just paid an ugly price for those ten days, suffering the misery of removing dairy totally and all at once from my diet after 67 years of eating it without knowing it was hurting me terribly.

    Your article, even though mostly anecdotal, helped me understand (just read it today) a great deal about what I just experienced; coupled with what I just read from a nutritionist’s article, I now know why I just went through what seemed like “forever” of utter misery.

    Good article, and being written in a lay person’s manner, very easy to understand. Thank you for writing and posting it.

  • I’m an Electrical Engineer, I was vegan for 1.5 yrs. I feel good for the first year then I began to lose stamina and strength and after I started eating meat I recovered quickly. I had lost 20 lbs down to 145 lbs (I’m 5’1″). I am 65 yrs old. I eat beef, deer, bear, fish, seafood.

    • That seems to indicate something like a sever iron deficiency. Did you ever see a doctor during this time? You were likely missing something important in your diet.

      A vegan diet is perfectly healthy, but you need to plan it with more thought than one with meat in it.