The United States dairy industry spends billions of dollars every year getting Americans to buy dairy products. We’re told that our body needs dairy for strong bones, but the truth is, the only beings that need cow’s milk are calves. In fact, the British Medical Journal published an analysis that showed dairy products have little to no benefit for bone health.
Research over the past decade shows that dairy can have adverse effects on hormones and contributes to heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancers (1). In this article, we will focus on dairy’s impact on healthy hormone levels. I’ll dive into how hormone imbalances cause acne and how eliminating dairy can help with skin issues! Let’s begin.
According to the founder of Floliving and author Alissa Vitti, dairy is a root cause of PMS, PCOS, acne, endometriosis, and infertility issues. It was at the root of her PCOS, and by eliminating all dairy, she healed her PCOS, her skin issues and finally got pregnant.
Before I met my husband, I ran on chicken McNuggets and sprite. Processed foods and coffee with cream were my go-to’s as I tried to climb the corporate pharmaceutical ladder. I was burnt out and breaking out, and nothing—not even the most expensive skincare—could cure my acne.
After eliminating processed foods and dairy, my skin completely changed. My acne cleared up, and I felt more balanced. This had a lot to do with getting my hormones in check, and I owe a lot of that to eliminating dairy. As the days went on, I would try to reintroduce dairy products into my diet, and I noticed that I felt less than fabulous and would experience breakouts (keep reading to learn my relationship with dairy now).
In a recent interview with Dr. Shannon Curtis, she told us that dairy is a no-go when healing hormonal imbalances, especially those that impact the skin. Let’s learn a little bit more about why.
United States Cows and the Dangers of Dairy
The majority of dairy cows in the US are injected with genetically modified growth hormones that cause them to produce more milk than they naturally make. The cliché “you are what you eat” rings true here. You are consuming those same hormones that we’re injected into that cow.
Not only are you what you eat, but you are also what you eat ate. Yup, read that again.
Conventional animal feeding lots or CAFOs are abundant in the US. It’s basically where everyone is getting their animal products. At these conventional farms (not sure if we can even refer to them as farms), animals are fed GMO corn or soy. Cows are supposed to graze on grass! So now you have artificial hormones and GMO feed in your system. This is a recipe for complete hormonal disaster.
If you are consuming conventional dairy products, you are upping your intake of artificial hormones, which can lead to estrogen dominance, heavy periods, increased PMS symptoms, PCOS, risk of cancer, anxiety, depression, and more.
Dairy and Hormones
Estrogen and progesterone are naturally found in cow’s milk, but both are higher in commercial dairy due to injections, as previously mentioned. These “environmental estrogens” may also contribute to early puberty in young girls (2).
Because dairy products contain natural and artificial sex hormones, they can throw off your body’s natural hormone levels. Unfortunately, in our modern world, we are constantly bombarded with endocrine disruptors or chemicals that mimic hormones. While it is impossible to avoid them altogether, it is crucial to reduce exposure. Starting with obvious places like conventional dairy products is a great way to keep hormones happy.
Conventional dairy also creates inflammation in the GI tract, which can hurt fertility and impact mood hormones like serotonin, which is produced in the gut (3). This is especially true if you have lactose intolerance. Now, I know you may be thinking, “I thought dairy was supposed to be good for gut health because of bacteria and probiotics?!” Conventional dairy products that are pasteurized will not help nourish gut microflora. Suppose you are hoping to nourish gut health. In that case, I recommend consuming fermented foods like kimchi, eating a variety of foods for a variety of good bacteria diversity, taking a probiotic, or consuming raw goat’s milk, yogurt, or kefir products—more on this later.
Did you know that a lot of conventional dairy products also contain antibiotics? Cows are often given antibiotics to avoid infection in CAFOs because of the tight “living” quarters. When you consume dairy products from cows given antibiotics, you are also consuming antibiotics! Something you didn’t even need a prescription for.
By now, we know that antibiotics harm the microbiome. When our microbiome is compromised, so is estrogen metabolism. To avoid estrogen dominance and its nasty impacts, our bodies need to be able to flush out excess estrogen from the body. When we have excess estrogen in the body, it can lead to many problems, including acne! Keep reading to learn how hormone imbalances like estrogen dominance can cause acne.
Hormone Imbalances and Acne
Hormone imbalances are almost always found in people suffering from acne. You will typically see imbalances in estrogen, progesterone, androgens (think testosterone), cortisol (the stress hormone), and insulin, which regulates blood sugar.
When it comes to blood sugar and acne, blood sugar imbalances, sometimes caused by hormone imbalances, can trigger androgen-induced acne. This is especially true if you have high insulin/blood sugar levels. It’s crucial to keep them stable.
As we spoke about earlier, estrogen dominance (high estrogen levels) is common in those with acne, especially after stopping the birth control pill. Progesterone, which we touched on, is usually low when it comes to acne breakouts. This fosters a state of “relative” estrogen dominance, according to Dr. Shannon Curtis, where estrogen may be normal but it’s high in comparison to progesterone.
Androgens like DHEA and testosterone may be high or have higher levels of activity. Inflammation from dairy can also lead to dysregulated cortisol levels—a main cause of adrenal fatigue! It’s important to think about your relationship with dairy. How do you feel after consuming dairy? How does your gut feel? How about your mood? These are all essential to think about when deciding to eliminate dairy for balanced hormones and better skin.
Here’s the thing. I’m a charcuterie board kind of girl. I love trying different kinds of cheese. I love the idea of being in Italy and getting freshly shaved parmesan over my spaghetti. While I will not wholly restrict myself from some of life’s small pleasures, I do have a couple of rules. When I do consume dairy products, they are always the full-fat variety. This is crucial for balancing insulin levels. I probably consume dairy around 1-3 times a month. Usually, this looks like cheddar on a grass-fed burger or mozzarella on GF pizza. I’ve found that if I don’t eat it very often, the times I do, I can tolerate it really well! I also noticed that grass-fed butter and ghee are fine for me. Organic is KEY here. I always try to go raw when it comes to dairy as well! If you can’t go raw, nonhomogenized is next best.
I hope this article gave you some insight into how conventional dairy impacts skin health and hormones. If you think you could benefit from eliminating dairy from your diet, do a trial period! Eliminate dairy products for a month and see what happens. If you want to reintroduce dairy into your diet, start with organic products.
When healing your skin and hormones, it will benefit you so much if you can prioritize a healthy mindset, reduce stress, replenish adrenals, and keep blood sugar stable. For more information on adrenal fatigue and reducing stress, check out more articles on our blog!