How giving up dairy has affected my fibromyalgia and chronic Lyme symptoms

How giving up dairy has affected my fibromyalgia and chronic Lyme symptoms

By Donna Gregory Burch.

I’ve always said I will never starve as long as I have two things in my house: peanut butter and cheddar cheese. These have been dietary mainstays since I was a kid because they both have protein, they’re easy to grab and eat without any food prep, they’re comforting (to me, at least) and they just taste good!

Unfortunately, my body has grown to hate both of them since I developed fibromyalgia and chronic Lyme. I gave up my beloved Skippy peanut butter last year after I became nauseous whenever I ate it.

Donna Gregory Burch

But I held onto cheese for dear life until I started to suspect that it, too, was causing my symptoms to flare. My hunch was confirmed when I tested positive for a casein sensitivity. My doctor advised me to forgo all dairy, except products from goats and sheep.

Since my diet is already super limited (no gluten, soy, processed sugar, fast food, soda, etc.), I ignored her advice for months until my body forced me to take action. Last month, with a sad heart, I downed a big chunk of cheddar cheese and a cup of soft serve from my favorite ice cream shop, and then committed to 30 days of no dairy.

Here’s what I learned from my 30-day experiment.

Lesson #1: Dairy is addictive

Over the years, I’ve read articles about how dairy is addictive, but I never really believed it until I cut cheese out of my life. My withdrawal symptoms reminded me of all those times in my 30s when I had tried to quit smoking. Day 3 was always the hardest because that’s when my body really went into mega withdrawal, and my willpower would start to fade.

It was the same when I gave up cheese. On days 3-5, I was so grumpy I fantasized about smacking random soccer moms in Target. When my hubby would arrive home from work, I had to warn him not to talk to me because I might start throwing things at him. I felt like I could chew through roofing nails!

Thankfully, these feelings of anger and anxiety were short-lived. Once I got through the first week of my 30-day experiment, I didn’t have them anymore.

Lesson #2: Dairy was definitely irritating my gut

This lesson was the most obvious. From day 1, I had less bloating, gas and digestive discomfort. For the most part, my tummy troubles disappeared during my month of being dairy free. Huge win!

(Read: Why dairy might be causing your digestive distress)

Lesson #3: Dairy was triggering my histamine response

The biggest reason I finally gave up dairy is that I’ve been dealing with a runny nose, watery eyes, excess mucous and facial flushing for the past 6 months. I was taking over-the-counter allergy medications to reduce my body’s histamine response and constantly toting a tissue around in my pocket.

I started to notice I needed to blow my nose and wipe my eyes a lot more after I ate moderate amounts of dairy. When I researched this, I learned cheese and some other dairy products are high histamine foods and can trigger the symptoms I was having.

Since giving up dairy, I have seen a reduction in my histamine reactions, but it wasn’t as great as I had hoped. I still have a tissue in my pocket; I just don’t use it as often.

Obviously there are still some offending foods in my diet, so my journey of figuring that out continues.

(Read: What is histamine intolerance?)

(Read: Could histamine intolerance be causing your symptoms?)

Lesson #4: Always read food labels

I didn’t realize how many foods contain dairy until I was avoiding it. For example, I didn’t know my favorite brand of gluten-free crackers contains dairy. During another shopping trip, I was going to buy some cauliflower rice from the frozen food section, and you guessed it, it had dairy.

Reading food labels is a requirement when going dairy free. Thankfully, most food manufacturers list food allergens at the end of their ingredient lists, so it’s not too hard to quickly spot dairy-containing foods. It’s just frustrating that there are so many of them!

Lesson #5: I can’t ignore my dairy sensitivity anymore

Last night, I ate cheese for the first time since my 30-day experiment started. An hour after eating, I was nauseous. It took me another two hours to realize my nausea was likely a reaction to the cheese I’d eaten with dinner.

I have this same reaction when I eat gluten, so now dairy not only makes my tummy hurt and my nose run, but I feel sick when I eat it, too. Big sigh.

(Read: 11 signs you may have a dairy sensitivity and what to do about it)

What I didn’t learn

I had expected giving up dairy would reduce my fibro/Lyme pain by lowering inflammation in my body, but I didn’t notice any change in symptoms other than reduced gastrointestinal and histamine issues.

However, I was going through a major flare-up of a herniated disc in my back throughout April. That caused an increase in my pain in general. It’s possible I didn’t see an improvement due to my back problem.

I’m having surgery on my herniated disc soon, so I’m still hopeful going dairy free may reduce my chronic pain.

(Read: 6 ways dairy leads to pain)

What’s next?

I’ve decided to continue the no-dairy experiment. I will treat dairy like I do gluten and the other 5,000+ foods that I avoid. I’ll stay away from it 95% of the time, and only eat it when I’m dining out or for special occasions.

I’m sad I won’t be able to nosh on cheese sticks or sprinkle parmesan on my marinara sauce. It sucks I’ll have to watch my hubby eat ice cream every night and won’t be able to steal a few spoonfuls from his bowl.

But my journey of healing Lyme and fibromyalgia is more important than any particular food group. I have to do what I have to do in order to get better even if that means sacrificing cheese and peanut butter. Maybe one day my body will stop warring with my food, and I’ll be able to enjoy a big, ooey-gooey slice of pizza again. Fingers crossed!

Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She was later diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Donna covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia and Lyme on her blog, You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.

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Authored by: Donna Gregory Burch

Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She was later diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Donna covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia and Lyme on her blog, You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.

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Maureen M.

I’m in my 60’s and in my 20’s my body began to act out. Long story short I became very aware (although a slow learner initially) that some foods were making me unhealthy. I was diagnosed with IBS and really began to pay attention to colon reactions…pain, bloating, etc. i was diagnosed in my 40’s as Lacrose intolerant.
I learned to follow my body’s lead and figure out what foods gave me issues….
1st it was sugar (especially chocolate!), then dairy, some foods, peanuts, etc etc.
I have it all down pat by now!
When, in my 50’s, I was diagnosed with FM and now ME/CFS also I then began tons of research!
I am ‘chronic spine related pain’ (4 failed spine surgeries) so I’ve learned effects of some foods on pain also!
And you, Donna, have been a huge teacher for me!
Today my diet is limited and consists only of chicken, veges, grains, no salt/sugar/dairy. Ugh! I miss out on so much now but… I dont suffer like I used to from wrongful foods and dairy. It is what it is. We live and learn.
Thank you Donna for being there to help educate us! Maureen

Sue B

Sounds like histamine intolerance could be a big contributer to my problems. Thanks for the info. Have you checked out functional neurology or SRT (Spiritual Response Technique by Robert Detzler? I would love to hear your research on both of these. Also as a B/W CRPS person w/ herniated discs, I had the chiropractor machine decompression sessions and now show no herniated discs on MRI’s. If FM is a cousin to CRPS, it it highly recommended to AVOID all invasive procedure. I hope you have time to check it out before your procedure.


It’s amazing how some foods can have a negative impact on our bodies without even realizing that sometimes our aches and pain can become more pronounced through our diet.
I live with chronic pain after 5 spinal surgeries. I have 8 fused discs and massive scar tissue wrapped around my nerve root. I have spinal stenosis, and a whole list of other spinal issues. Finally in 2011, I had a nuerostimulator implant and then a revision in 2016 due to the right lead in my spine crossing over to my left side. It helps somewhat on my legs, but provides no back pain relief. I am also on ER and IR opiates, which I expect to change this month because of the CDC.
In January I was diagnosed with diabetes. I was placed on insulin and metformin. By following the ADA diet, I couldn’t get my numbers under control. I did a lot of research on reversing diabetes, and in April I changed my food choices. I eat whole food plant-based with no oil, salt or sugar. I was, able to go off insulin and now my numbers are now under control. What I didn’t expect was that my pain has lessened. I went to a wedding last week, and was gone 9 hours. This is the longest I’ve been out of my house since 2006, before my last six fusions. I avoid inflammatory foods, and eat more anti-inflammatory foods. Daily I eat G-Bombs. Greens, beans,,onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. It feels so good to know that everything I put into my body is highly nutritious. And so grateful it has eased my pain. I take less meds, no longer suffer from constipation, and losing weight even though I can eat veggies and fruit all day. It’s really not as hard as you think. I never realized how, many wonderful fruits and vegetables we have to choose from. Today most of our foods are processed and loaded with sugar. Did you know sugar goes by 56 different names, and that they’ve added sugar to hot dogs and wheat thin crackers!!! They want to keep us addicted to food which causes diseases. Over 700,000 people a year die from heart related problems. Mostly from years of poor nutrition. Why doesn’t our government care about that!!!!

Loretta Holscher

This blog is so funny, the comment on the soccer Moms fantasy caught me with a mouth full of cereal, (with almond milk), in full blown belly laugh and an accidental nose run. The tissues were close by thankfully and maybe I need to cut out more dairy…

Kitty Rainwater

Try dairy free ice cream there are plenty to choose from. They are made from coconut milk cashew and so on. Once you don’t eat dairy anymore there are alternatives! Don’t give up and your palette will change. There are dairy free cheeses that you can grow accustomed to that are very like regular cheese without all of the draw backs. Trust me!

Alanna Wilgus

I used to eat massive amounts of dairy in my diet, but excluded it along with sugar, gluten, white rice, potatoes, soy, corn, peanuts (they are quite toxic because the shell is so permeable), alcohol, and caffeine. It may sound daunting, but I was amazed at how much better I feel. Have you ever been tested for thyroid peroxidase? It’s the only reliable test for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis which has most of the same symptoms as fibromyalgia. It is exacerbated by leaky gut, adrenal and liver issues. I am positive for the antibody, but can’t find a doctor to treat me because my t3 is too high. So the fight continues.

Interestingly, peanuts are an excellent source of arachidonic acid, the precursor substance that the body uses to make Anandamide. An alternative source of Anandamide is the cannabis plant.

As for dairy, soy, and gluten, those are all excellent sources of the amino acid tyrosine, which the body uses to make dopamine and endogenous morphine. A lack of endogenous morphine contributes to pain, sleeplessness, and bowel spasm.

Also of interest: During the winter months when people remain indoors, we constantly expose ourselves to bowel gas from other people, which contains bacteria and viruses that form an aerosol when people pass gas. When warmer weather arrives and people begin getting exercise outdoors, they pass gas in the outdoor air and don’t produce as much of it indoors. Outdoor air gets exposed to solar ultraviolet radiation that kills bacteria and viruses. This is why influenza disappears during the summer months, and re-appears each winter. In rural China, some impoverished people cannot afford firewood or coal to heat their homes, so they bring pigs indoors in the winter for warmth. The pigs pass gas, the people inhale the influenza virus from their pigs, and then the virus gradually spreads globally. Flu experts try to create flu vaccines each year, based on whatever virus poor people in China get from their pigs. Sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they don’t.

Donna, is it conceivable that your histamine issues for the past six long winter months, resulted from other people passing gas near you, and you inhaling viruses and bacteria that were triggering your immune system to release histamine? If so, the test would be whether you get worse when you go back on dairy again in the summer.