Dropping the Dairy

It’s been almost 3 week now since I was diagnosed with a dairy allergy and I started removing as much as I could find from my diet.

This involved an easy blood test at Healthscope costing $100 to test for 5 main allergies.  As far as I could see there wasn’t one for simply testing dairy and there was no ‘test one, get one free’ option so it was the whole lot or nothing.  It took more than a week and a half to get the results back which is unusual but I think had something to do with the time it takes for the antibodies to react with the allergen.

My results showed a substantial dairy allergy and a mild wheat one.  At the level my allergy was to dairy, they recommended removing all dairy, and the level of wheat recommended reducing wheat intake to once every few days if possible.  A dairy allergy is different from ‘lactose intolerance’ and a wheat allergy is not ‘gluten free’.  Lactose intolerance is the lack of the enzyme lactase in your body meaning the lactose can’t be broken down in your gut.  Most people don’t have this enzyme and that’s why you’ll hear the phrase ‘cow’s milk is meant for baby cows’.  Dairy allergy could be the lactose (sugar) or the casein (protein in the milk) which is identified by the body as an intruder and subsequently causes an allergic reaction with histamine produced causing fatigue, itchiness, irritation and bloating.  Gluten is the general name for the protein in wheat and also can be removed from the product leaving an allergy to wheat still.

Beginning with removing dairy, it meant replacing milk in the morning on my muesli as well as yoghurt.  Changing my coffees – both instant and shop bought – to soy.  It meant trying to find cheese made without dairy.  It meant looking carefully at all biscuits, soups, crackers, cakes, butters, custards, yoghurts and additives – whey, milk solids, casein, milk powder.  It’s in everything!

Add to that trying to find a good wheat free bread.  As mentioned above there are plenty of gluten free products these days but most breads contain some wheat.  So far the best thing I have come across is spelt flour bread.  Spelt is a cereal grain so contains gluten but is not very similar to wheat and therefore seems not to cause an allergy.

Add to this trying to reduce sugar and my diet is feeling a little limited.  Sugar is the hardest one to weed out – that stuff is EVERYWHERE!

But back to the reason for doing all this. It has seemed to work and stopped me feeling so bad!  The tiredness is less, my stomach feels good, I no longer feel full after eating – I feel satisfied, it’s a different feeling – and I get a sense that I can get through every day now, instead of starting the day wondering how I will make it through.

It is worth it!  The more I researched the more I was horrified that people actually ingest dairy foods.  I know they are creamy and delicious but to have such a huge impact on the body seems crazy that anyone would.  People keep commiserating with me and hoping I can get back to eating dairy again soon.  I must say I don’t really have much desire to!

My only problem – there is simply no replacement for cheese at the moment and I do like cheese with olives and crackers.  But I can do without it.

The most interesting part of this last 3 weeks was a few days ago, the fatigue came back!  As strong as ever, I woke up one morning feeling like my limbs had been painted in cement over night, I struggled to get out of the car from sitting, I couldn’t lift my daughter again. It was bad.  I thought the response had worn off or that I’d accidentally taken in some dairy again but it was so bad I knew I would have had to drunk a litre of milk to have this effect.  I realised finally after my ears and roof of mouth were itching that this coincided with an unseasonably warm day (30 degrees!) and a north wind, bringing all sorts of pollens and dust from across the top of southern australia where all our farms are.  I was having an allergic reaction – hay fever – and it seemed like my body was oversensitive to allergies and dialled up the response to DEFCON 5 again.  Once I did realise this, I was able to get it under control with anti-histamines (also having to make sure they contained no dairy as most of them do!).

What the experience reminded me though was how tough it is to maintain a clear head and positive thinking in the face of an onslaught on the body.  A few hours into my allergic response – which I didn’t know was happening – I did notice my thoughts were really scattered.  I felt anxious and nervous and a bit upset and I couldn’t pin point why. The first night I went to bed feeling overwhelmed and all sorts of ‘bad thoughts’ crowded into my mind.  The next day I struggled to concentrate on an assignment, eventually giving it away to sit on the couch and mindlessly watch our new prime minister being sworn in.  This was about the time the anti-histamines began to take affect and a few hours later I could concentrate again, my head was clear and I felt good about life again.

I am 100% certain that illness disables the mind somewhat or hijacks it, making it very difficult to maintain positive thoughts and a ‘healthy’ demeanour.  It seems a poor design flaw that we have this response and being such a focussed and goal driven race means that those who are ill and fighting will eternally have this barrier between them and their healthy bystanders who just can’t understand ‘why you can’t be more positive’.

Go easy on yourselves mentally if you can, while your body is fighting, it doesn’t need an extra battle to fight with itself.

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