Friday, May 6, 2011

The Dairy-PMS Connection

This post is for all the women out there who suffer from painful PMS and menstruation. I know my symptoms were never as bad as some women, but they were bad enough. My breasts would get swollen and tender, my back ached, my stomach cramped and bloated - these symptoms definitely made me irritable for a few days every month as my husband can attest to.

I tried different supplements and had minimal success. I really felt at a loss as to how to make these symptoms go away because it wasn't always like this for me. The pain gradually grew worse the older I got, and so I felt that there had to be some explanation for it.

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti
When I found out that I was allergic to dairy, I was still nursing my son and hadn't started menstruating again. When I did start though, there were no symptoms. At first I thought it had to do with the fact that I had been nursing my son for almost two years. But then, we found a source of local raw dairy, which I hoped I could tolerate. The milk did not agree with me, but I did experienced those unwanted symptoms again.

However, I didn't connect the dots from dairy to menstrual pain until I read, Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow's Milk and Your Health, by Joseph Keon. The author explains that elevated levels of estrogen and the hormone-like substance called series-2 prostaglandins are to blame. Prostaglandins trigger muscle contraction and inflammation, meaning women who have painful periods also have higher levels of prostaglandins (1). Excessive estrogen causes salt and fluid retention and leads to bloating and that dull pressure you feel in your lower back and pelvis (2). What we eat can affect the levels of these two substances in our bodies.
"'Among the routes of exposure to estrogens, we are mostly concerned about cow's milk,' the source between 60 and 80 percent of all estrogens consumed... estrogren levels in milk are so high because of the modern practice of milking cows throughout pregnancy, when estrogen levels increase significantly. Milk derived from a cow in late-stage pregnancy can contain as much as thirty-three times more estrogen than milk from a cow that is not pregnant." (3)
That's a lot of extra estrogen. Series-2 prostaglandins can be found in dairy fat, meat and eggs, so reducing consumption of dietary fat helps reduce overall levels. That being said, I still consume meat and eggs daily, but perhaps eliminating cow's milk from my diet was enough to tip the balance.

I am sure that there many dietary factors at play in terms of what contributes to PMS and menstrual pain. However, looking back on things, I can see that I remained pain-free as long as I wasn't consuming dairy.

(1) Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow's Milk and Your Health, by Joseph Keon, pg 71
(2) Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow's Milk and Your Health, by Joseph Keon, pg 72
(3) Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow's Milk and Your Health, by Joseph Keon, pg 59


Jen said...

Excellent post. Few women make the connection between dairy and PMS. I used to deal with many of the issues you describe, and there were healed with switching to a more whole foods/WAP type diet. Initially, I did have to really limit dairy too.

However, I wouldn't throw out all dairy. The farmer I get my milk from now does not milk the cows through prenancy, and as he does not give his cows hormones and mangled foods, the milk is highly beneficial. I think the source of meat, eggs, dairy, and fat matters tremendously, as even our vegetables can be sources of hormones both natural and artificial, not to mention our drinking water!

I have not read the book that you mention, but it certainly appears that he puts all milk in the same class, when there are radical differences depending on how the animal is raised.

Shanon Hilton said...

Thanks for your comment! I used to be a raw milk advocate too, but the more I learn about dairy proteins and their connection to disease, the more convinced I am that we shouldn't be drinking dairy. Many of the problematic proteins, such as beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM7) exist in cow's milk, regardless of how the animal is raised. It is this specific protein that is being linked to autism, schizophrenia and Type 1 diabetes.

I completely agree with you about the importance of meat and eggs and fat, but since I am also allergic to dairy - even raw dairy, the choice for me to abstain is easy! :)

missannie said...

Sorry to comment on such an old post, but I don't want people to get the wrong idea--not about the estrogen, which you still may want to avoid-- but the beta casomorphin, which is not prevalent in all milk. It depends on the breed, and switching cows can make a huge difference in health implications.

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi Miss Annie,

Yes, I agree. That or goats milk. I touch on the different breeds of cows in my post: Milk - Does it Really Do a Body Good? Part 2:

Thanks for taking the time to comment. --S