A CaseIn Point

A Pymol rendering of the structure of Protein CSKN2A1 (casein). Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by PDBot.
A Pymol rendering of the structure of Protein CSKN2A1 (casein). Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by PDBot.
Notice: This post may or may not contain TMI for you. If you’re uncomfortable with discussions about the symptoms of food intolerance/allergies, then you may want to skip this post.

Always Check with Your Doctor First

So, I’ve been to see my physician. He’s an awesome guy with a couple sets of letters behind his name: ARNP & ND. The best thing about Dr. Cowan is that he knows his stuff, but he leaves plenty of room for me to know my stuff and to know my body, as well.

Over the past few years I’ve been plagued by ongoing sinus issues. I’ve also had chronic candida overgrowth for the past two years. I’ve noticed that when I overdo it on dairy, I either get a sinus infection or a yeast infection. Hmmm…

Ahhh! Milk!

Up until recently, I drank lots and lots of milk. I also loved ice cream, butter, whipping cream, cream cheese, sour cream, cheese, and…well, cheese. Yummmmmmmm.

I’ve loved milk for as long as I can remember. When I was a baby my mom and dad owned a raw dairy farm. They raised beautiful cows, which my dad took pictures of like they were models when my mom was nine months pregnant with my brother. Their cows produced delicious raw milk at a time when it was pretty much impossible to sell it. We lived in a farmhouse with a barn and pastures, right beside what is now Wal-Mart in Wenatchee,

They also had one goat. She was tied up right outside the back door. They bought the goat for me. They had to, because when I drank their elixir of the gods, I got stinky. Really stinky, and I also got diarrhea.

Stinky? Diarrhea?

Catch that? Every time I drank their delicious raw milk, I stunk to high heaven, and it wasn’t the diarrhea that made me stinky. It was the milk proteins (casein) coursing through my bloodstream, probably being attacked by my white blood cells, T cells, and all manner of manic immuno-warriors coursing through my veins. So, they milked the goat every morning, after milking the cows. I drank the goat’s milk, and the stink went away.

Having long ago sold the raw dairy farm, and having resorted to buying milk and cheese by the gallon at the local grocery store, my mom began feeding me dairy products again around my seventh birthday, just to see what would happen.Ta-da! I was able to eat both without the stink and without the diarrhea. Wahoo!  We all assumed that I had “outgrown” my “allergies.”

Hello Butter, Hello Ice Cream

For the next fifteen years, I developed a passion for butter, ice cream, and chocolate. Not to mention a huge bowl of cereal covered in milk for breakfast, milk with lunch, and milk with dinner. YUM! Every child’s fantasy, right??

My food “allergy” seemed to be cured, and I believed that for years. Later, when I was 21, I developed severe seasonal allergies. I was pretty sure these allergies were triggered by the mold growing near the floorboards in my first apartment with my husband. (For more on that, may I recommend reading my creative memoir called Plant Envy?)

I went on believing I was allergic to mold, and later to dust and pollen, cats and dogs, and all manner of other things which irritated my sinuses, causing sneezing, coughing, itchy throat, and watery, goopy eyes. I currently take FIVE medications for allergies, and still have breakthrough attacks once in a while.

Not Allergic to Mold? What!?!?!

This past year I went to see an allergy specialist. Guess what my pinprick test showed? I’m not allergic to mold. Or pollen. Or dust. I am, however, very allergic to cats, dogs, and dust mites (not the same as dust, but they thrive on dust and mold). I’m also not allergic to soy or dairy.

Not allergic to dairy? Wahoo!!!


I thought I hit the jackpot when he told me I wasn’t allergic to dairy, and frankly I didn’t quite believe him. I was already receiving some kind of intuitive messages about dairy and my body, wondering if my allergy symptoms and sinus congestion might be affected by eating dairy. So I asked him for more information.

He pointed out that a true allergic reaction involves hives, itching of some kind somewhere, and swelling of some kind somewhere. BUT…and this was a big bad but…allergies and food intolerance are different beasties. And food intolerance is not the purview of allergy specialists.

So, I shoved that information under the rug, decided not to vaccinate myself with a bunch of weekly shots against cats and dogs, since I didn’t have them. And decided to buy some dust masks for when I have to clean the corners of my closets and dust my furniture (which happens so rarely that I still have the same masks I purchased so many months ago). And I made one change to see what might happen. I stopped eating ice cream.

That was hard. But not as hard as I thought it would be, and since every time I return to my passion-turned-nemesis I get diarrhea and a sinus infection, I’ve been motivated to steer clear (for the most part).

Still Suffering

Over the months, I cut out more dairy products. Gone went the sour cream. Chili isn’t exactly the same culinary experience, but my body has thanked me in subtle ways. Next, I said goodbye to butter. This took awhile. For months I was unconvinced that rich organic butter could be bad for me, so I kept straying back when I ran out of my favorite non-soy butter replacement (soy-free Earth Balance; this is not a sponsored plug, it really is my favorite). I was still eating cheese several times a week, though. And I was still getting yeast infections and had plugged up sinuses, which would flare even more when I ate butter again.

So I talked with a friend about the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP). If you read my last post, you know I was seriously contemplating going on this diet. But as I read through the list of everything I couldn’t eat on the diet for six weeks, I balked. I am cooking challenged, meaning I can do it but I don’t like to. And even if I was highly motivated (which I almost was), it would take me a year to figure out how to cook for the AIP diet.

So I got some other books. I got some paleo books (my friend highly recommended The Paleo Approach, by Sarah Ballantyine, PhD), and I got another book called The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook. I’m what you might call a picky eater, and I figured that if a kid would like the food, I might too.

GFCF Diet Protocol

The authors (Pamela J. Compart, MD & Dana Laake, RDH, MS, LDN) recommend cutting out both gluten (GF = gluten free) and casein (CF = casein free). We’ve heard a lot about gluten, that sticky binder that makes bread SOOOOO good. But what is casein?

Turns out casein is a milk protein, not to be confused with lactose, which is a milk sugar. I read everything she had to say about gluten and casein, and I was inspired to have a conversation with my doctor about it. Perhaps I didn’t need to go hog wild. Perhaps I could just cut out wheat and dairy and see what might happen. If I don’t get better after doing that, then I could just go back to eating all my favorite foods, right???

So, I met with my doctor, which you should also consider doing if you’re going to make a radical shift in your diet. He helped me understand the difference between lactose intolerance and casein intolerance, and more importantly HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE in my body.

How Do you Tell the Difference?

To tell the difference, he recommended trying a couple bites of dairy that I know will elicit a diarrhea response (Yippee!! I got to eat ice cream again!) He advised that I take lactose-aiding enzymes just before eating the ice cream and see what happened. If I didn’t get diarrhea, that means I do not have a lactose intolerance. But if the enzymes did not prevent the cramping and bloating that come on a little later, that means I probably have a casein intolerance.

The proteins in our foods are supposed to get chewed up by the enzymes and bile in our stomachs and intestines. If they are released into our bloodstream without being gobbled up, then our bodies appear to attack the proteins as if they are a foreign body (read: Poison).

And what do our bodies do to repel poison?

You guessed right: Diarrhea and sometimes vomiting.

My Little Experiment

So, I did my little experiment. With a slice of delicious blueberry pie (which was made, I’m sure, with butter) and two tablespoons of delicious, creamy, yummy vanilla ice cream, I chewed two lactose enzyme tablets.

Lo and behold, I did not dart to the bathroom for a diarrhea break. Yippee!! Maybe with a few extra enzyme tablets I would get to eat ice cream again…and butter…and cheese.

Unfortunately, four hours later…uh-oh…I was doubled over in pain. I hadn’t eaten ice cream in months, and my body was not having it. Un-uh! I was in major agony for a couple of hours before bed, before things down there finally settled down. Four hours of pain for two tablespoons of ice cream? Geesh!

And then, the next morning, I had a surprise visit from the runs. Apparently, I have both lactose and casein intolerance. Do you see the alligator tears sliding down my cheeks right now? I told you, I’m a baby when it comes to food!

A Casein Free LIfestyle

So, while I continue to suffer from what my friend Ann calls “dairy depression,” I have now committed myself to a casein-free lifestyle. I ate my first quesadilla without the queso a week ago. I make these delicious and easy black bean quesadillas: 2 cans of black beans drained, 1/2 jar of the best salsa you can find, a little garlic powder and a little salt. Stir it all in a pan and heat until bubbly. Serve on warmed tortillas with melted cheese (or in my case a tablespoon or two of gushy avocado).

I was super sad, so I actually had one with cheese and one without. (You’ve got to start slow, my friends!) And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. I had real hope that I might be able to pull this off. And pull it off I will.

Already, I’ve noticed a correlation between a decrease in dairy and a decrease in sinus congestion. It’s far from cured, but I’m still a ways off from being completely dairy free. Casein keeps creeping up in unlikely places.

Like in my favorite chocolate (again, not a sponsored ad, but I’ll tell you it’s Dove Dark Chocolate). Those smooth-as-silk, rich-as-mousse, chocolate brown squares have milk protein in them. OH NO!!!

Since this is a long post already, I will save my chocolate woes for another time.

Until then, I hope you’ve learned something you didn’t know, and I hope that if you’ve been handed a CaseIn point at some time in your life that you are encouraged a little bit by what I’ve shared here.

I know you can go dairy free, because I’m doing it!

In Peace & Joy,
Angela Magnotti Andrews

One thought on “A CaseIn Point

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