Dairy-free, TOO??? Oh, dear Lord.


I find myself wondering why our family seems to need weird diets.  Is it because of the genetic mix between my husband and me?  Our kids seem to have gotten the worst and oddest of our health problems, plus some.

We already knew that baby Audrey, now 11 months old, had pretty serious digestive problems (frothy green poop and abdominal pain) when I, the breastfeeding mother, ate anything dairy.  So, for the last almost-year, I have had no dairy at all, except for the daily dose of half-and-half in my coffee, and the very occasional Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra.  Well, this is the time in a baby’s life when the mom starts expanding what the baby eats.  So, starting about 3 weeks ago, I started adding a spoonful of plain yogurt to her breakfast (which is typically a fruit puree mixed with rice cereal).  She liked it fine, and didn’t seem to be experiencing any digestive difficulties.  However, she broke out in body-wide eczema, with which she has never before had a problem.  Feeding her breakfast last Monday, a week and a half ago, I asked her — as I was feeding her her yogurt & fruit — “What could be causing this eczema?”  Well, duh.  I looked down at the little bowl and then apologized to Audrey.  Then, I looked over at Wesley, my 5yo, and told him about my little revelation.

Wesley has been on a gluten-free diet since he was 14 months, due to celiac disease.  He has continued to have other health issues like eczema and asthma, and secondary food intolerances & allergies.  Compared to the celiac disease, none of it, except for his anaphylaxis to peanuts, seemed like that big of a deal.  However, over the last year or so, at the age in life when my other two sons had outgrown their asthma, Wesley’s has been getting worse.  His pediatrician wants us to go to an asthma specialist, as he is concerned about our frequent use of the SVN/nebulizer/breathing machine we have to use with Wes.  (Some weeks, we don’t use it at all… but other weeks, we have to use it 2-3x/day.)

I have become increasingly concerned about Wes’ asthma, and would like to take him to the specialist.  However, my husband Martin  is really resistant to using any further medication on Wes.  Martin’s childhood memories are filled with trips to the ER and tons of oral steriods for asthma (from which he weaned himself, at age 17, and has experienced only rare episodes of asthma since, and which — the steriods — he thinks is probably the reason that for the last 5 years, he’s struggled with alopecia areata) .  I have told my husband that I’m not really interested in giving Wes more drugs, either, and that I’m certain that (like the rest of his health problems) the source of his asthma is diet-related.  BUT, until we find the trigger source, I’m not opposed to medicating him further.  (Any mother who has seen their child gasp for air, eyes wide, stomach heaving, shoulders tightened, can surely understand where I’m coming from.)

All of this comes flooding into my mind as I chirpily tell Wesley, “Goodness!  I think Audrey is going to have to remain dairy-free!  That must be the source of her ecze –”  I stop short.  I pick up the phone to call Martin.  “It just dawned on me that dairy is likely the source of Audrey’s eczema.  Do you think it might be the source of Wesley’s eczema and asthma, too?  Do you think I should maybe try him dairy-free?”  Martin is immediately convinced that this is the route we should go, like right now, cold-turkey, immediately.

I get off the phone and sit thinking.  I slowly talk to Wes about how we might have to make him dairy-free.  He takes it in stride, and continues eating, responding, “OK.”  Like, no big deal, what’s one more food I can’t have, right?  Then, I ask him, “Do you know what dairy is?  It’s anything made from milk, like sour cream and cheese.”  He stares at me.  Long pause.  He looks straight ahead.  Longer pause.  Then, with a plaintive, tiny voice that cracks a little, he tells me, “I need cheese.”

My heart breaks.  He already can’t have wheat, rye, barley, oats, peanuts, soy, olives, carob, citrus or tree nuts.  That is an incredibly restrictive diet, but one that we’ve grown accustomed to.  He is remarkably cooperative in his diet, and way more aware than any 5yo should have to be of how ill these foods make him, and that the peanuts are truly deadly (he calls peanuts “my mortal emeny.”)  However, the boy lives on chicken, corn tortillas, sour cream and cheese.

I’ve been in the world of Food Intolerances for so long that I’m aware that this is not just a simple lactose intolerance — it’s the casein.  Casein is the protein in milk, and is much more pervasive than lactose, which is the sugar in milk.  You can take the lactose out of dairy, but you can’t take the casein out.  And, if casein is the problem, you have to take a zero-tolerance stance.  No questionable foods, and no cheating.

Wes already drinks rice milk (made by WestSoy — the only brand that does not use carob bean gum as a thickener), so that’s not an issue.  But, no dairy means no cheese.  No g.f. pizza.  No butter.  No milk in my homemade baked goods.  No milk in the prepared g.f. items I buy.  No milk chocolate.  No ice cream.  No sour cream.  No cheese.  No cheese.  No cheese.

I’m already a label-reader, but now I’m having to re-read and re-re-read labels.  It’s taking me nearly 3 hours again to grocery shop.  It’s almost like when we first discovered about gluten.

I have sort of held out hope that maybe this wasn’t it, for Wesley’s sake, so he could have his beloved cheese.  But, after enduring probably the worst month in his life for asthma, since I started him dairy/casein-free 9 days ago, he’s not had one asthma attack.  He hasn’t even been wheezy.  He went from 1-3 SVN treatments a day down to none.  He’s not had a ONE since last Tuesday.  His eczema doesn’t appear any better — in fact, he scratched his legs to bleeding last night.  But, it could be that that takes longer to heal up.  Or, it could be that the dairy is triggering his asthma, but is not the source of the eczema.

Or, it could be that this whole thing is entirely coincidental and he’s just had a good week for his asthma.  But… I’m already preparing my heart and my resolve, for the sake of the health of my dear son, to help him forego dairy for life, if need be.   


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on March 15, 2007, in Celiac Disease, Cooking/Baking/Food/Recipes, Introspective Musings, Medical Stuff, Parenting, Sad Things, The Dear Hubby, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. My sis went dairy free for her asthma and it really helped. If I were you I’d go see a naturepath because they can tell you for sure if that’s the problem. My sis couldn’t eat eggs or milk but has slowly been able to bring them back into her diet. Don’t forget that goat dairy is usually ok!!

  2. My daughter has eczema that was really bad before we discovered her food allergy issues (primarily legumes) and for a long time we thought because of a skin prick allergy test that she was allergic to dairy related items, soy, legumes and a few other items but through some rather aggressive measures with her allergist and constantly adding allergy tests to her regular transplant related blood draws, she is allergic to legumes. Her skin cleared up with a great topical ointment from her dermatologist and I find that the Wal-mart brand of Eucerin works wonders in keeping her from getting dry skin plus it is less than $3 and lasts for months.

    Good luck with figuring all of that out but it is great that you have a natural food store nearby as well as your family already having given you a crash course in food intolerance.

  3. Oh, dear. How very frustrating. I can’t even imagine going cf, gf was hard enough. 😦

  4. Oh wow! The poor boy! 😦 I’m sorry he’s having problems that seem to be related to dairy but it is my hope that these kids with food issues will pave the way to a non-food-centered way of life. It would be SO nice to go to a gathering that isn’t food oriented.

    My heart goes out to you and your son.

  5. rubber chicken girl

    Do some research on whether the link is the casein or just the phlegm issue I proposed?? I am praying that your dh will let his own history go and do what Wes needs even if that means Advair. I mean Advair beats trips to the ER or death….not to freak you, but this thing is real and not everything has a homeopathic remedy (well, nothing in my world does ;oPPPPPPP) If it is just a matter of an ounce of prevention rather than a pound of cure, heck, sometimes the damage due to the neglect is more damaging than the steroids. My cousin, the son of a Dr and nurse, had silent asthma which they didn’t recognize until he was in high school or college. His damage/scarring to his lungs is SEVERE. And that on a silent unnoticeable case. Praying for wisdom. I was really worried about Wes and the cats that last night. How did he do after I left?

  6. Thanks, Shellie ~ I’m thinking it’s the casein — or something else in milk that is causing asthma attacks. We’re still on our trip… will be home on Tuesday late night, and we’ve had to use the SVN five times over the last two weeks. Twice were for uncertain reasons, but two of the times for sure were because of dairy. Eat a piece of cheese = asthma attack. Drink hot chocolate = asthma attack. (And yet another time for being near — for 20 minutes — a bag of peanuts in the shell. I could have kicked myself for not noticing the peanuts. But, oddly, since my aunt witnessed it, she suddenly became much less doubtful… and my uncle — whose peanuts they were — put them in a plastic bag high in the cupboard.)

    I can tell both from his coughing and his breathing, and then how he responds to the albuterol that it is asthma, and not phlegm. Five times in two weeks is a lot better than we had been doing before I had the dairy revelation, but it’ll be nice (for Wes’ health sake) to get back home into our “controlled” environment, and hopefully back to the no-asthma-attack mode that we’d had for the… two weeks? three weeks? before we left.

    BTW, his eczema is 98% gone now, too. That took longer to clear up, but it’s nearly completely gone for the first time in his life. That’s another thing that makes me think that it’s either a casein issue, or a milk allergy, and not a simple lactose intolerance.

    I am concerned about scarring, too. I’m really hopeful that eliminating dairy will eliminate our need for asthma medication. But, if it doesn’t, I’m still (mostly) open to medication… It’s not like I’m totally opposed to medication; it’s just that I’d *SO* much rather find the source, rather than just continue to ingest a poison that’s triggering the asthma, then treat the asthma. KWIM?

  7. rubber chicken girl

    I didn’t mean phlegm meant no asthma. I meant phlegm exacerbating (sp) it, kwim? Like triggering?? Dunno. Haven’t read up on it. Just was what Maury thought about his own case. I do understand wanting the source *if* the source is a food substance and not just general environmental stuff like pollin, dust etc that cannot be entirely controlled. I still need to know more about this and really nail down a diagnosis for Meg. I mean, she *never* has conventional attacks like you describe. Just weasy after jumping on the trampoline type of thing and used to get really hard by any chest bug that came along. So, that is whey I was questioning why she was on Advair and Wes was not, kwim. Kinda seemed back to front as they say in NZ.

  8. Shellie ~ Well, Meg is probably on Advair because you don’t drag your feet about medication like I do. Our pediatrician wants us to go to an asthma specialist, and mentioned Advair… which, btw, his brother invented, which I thought was cool, but made me even MORE suscpicious. If we had pursued the specialist, I’m certain he’d be on Advair.

    And, oh! I see what you mean about phlegm. I think. It definitely would exacerbate an existing breathing problem.

    (And I still think you should get Meg & Claire tested for CD.)

    Love you!!

  9. Hi there, I have been following this post and have to second the motion for you to have all of your kids see a naturopathic doctor right away. They can give them all simple blood tests to test for delayed reactions to foods, as well as immediate reactions to certain foods. The test is for IgE responses and IgG responses, which measures the immune response to over 100 different foods. I am studying naturopathy and also see an N.D. and had the testing done. Found out for me dairy and gluten cause extremely high immune responses for me. Since eliminating dairy my energy has sky rocketed, no more mucous in my throat (which was chronic), no more nausea(which i had daily), and my skin is clearing up amazingly. All of the problems I suffered with since my teenage years have began to change rapidly for the better by eliminating dairy. I also am weeding out gluten, but as you know it is not easy at first, as gluten is in soooo many things. It is actually quite common for people with gluten allergies to also be sensitive to dairy. Often when a person has a gluten intolerance or the extreme case of C.D. they also will have high immune responses to dairy as well. So, I would also highly recommend the testing, as it is quick, easy, and non invasive and may help you and your childrens lives for the better. I strongly urge not to give them traditional meds. until you have explored finding the root cause, as meds. only mask the symptoms and do not identify the cause, which will only perpetuate a vicious cycle until the root cause is identified and eliminated. Good luck to you guys! I wish you the best of luck in the future! 🙂

  10. Oh, and most importantly I suffer from another chronic health problem and since eliminating dairy my immune system is finally not stressed to the max and has began to operate extremely efficiently with the aid of my immune boosters I am taking. It truly is a miracle and I am so happy to have finally found what was causing my immune system so much havoc.

  11. stacey monahan


  1. Pingback: Maybe it's a cow's milk allergy... « Only Sometimes Clever

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