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Why should people with Hashimoto’s avoid dairy?

Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland. It is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. With Hashimoto’s, the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland, damaging it and interfering with its ability to produce thyroid hormones. This can lead to symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, and sensitivity to cold temperatures.

One of the key treatments for Hashimoto’s is avoiding trigger foods that can cause inflammation and exacerbate autoimmune attacks on the thyroid. Dairy products are one of the top trigger foods to avoid with Hashimoto’s. Here’s an overview of why people with Hashimoto’s should consider removing dairy from their diets:

Dairy proteins can trigger autoimmune attacks

The primary proteins found in dairy are whey and casein. Studies show that these milk proteins can spark immune system attacks in people with Hashimoto’s:

– Whey contains glycoproteins like bovine serum albumin that are similar to thyroid peroxidase, an enzyme involved in thyroid hormone production. The immune system attacks these proteins, cross-reacting with and damaging the thyroid.1

– Casein contains peptides like casomorphin that can induce autoimmune thyroiditis in animal studies. The immune system attacks casomorphin and also targets the thyroid gland.2

This molecular mimicry, where dairy proteins resemble thyroid proteins, triggers the immune system to attack the thyroid. Removing dairy can help reduce autoimmune flare-ups.

Dairy affects thyroid hormone levels

Multiple studies demonstrate that dairy consumption can negatively impact thyroid hormone levels in people with autoimmune thyroid diseases:

– A study in mice with autoimmune thyroiditis found that a dairy-free diet significantly lowered anti-thyroid antibodies compared to a normal diet.3

– A study in newly diagnosed Hashimoto’s patients found that removing dairy improved thyroid function over 3 months.4

– A study in lactating women found that higher dairy intake was associated with lower T3 and T4 levels.5

The reasons why dairy may lower thyroid hormone levels are not fully clear yet. Dairy’s impact on gut inflammation and calcium levels may play a role. In any case, research indicates dairy negatively affects the thyroid.

Dairy contains hormones that stimulate the thyroid

Milk naturally contains hormones like bovine IGF-1 to stimulate growth in calves. Unfortunately, these hormones may also stimulate the thyroid gland in people with Hashimoto’s:

– In one study, dairy milk consumption raised TSH levels in young adults, indicating increased thyroid stimulation.6

– Bovine IGF-1 survives digestion and may act directly on thyroid cells, contributing to glandular hyperplasia.7

Dairy hormones instructing the damaged thyroid gland to work harder is counterproductive for managing Hashimoto’s.

Dairy increases inflammation

Chronic inflammation is closely tied to Hashimoto’s disease progression. Dairy may promote inflammation through:

– Allergies: Many people have undiagnosed allergies to dairy proteins.8 This triggers inflammatory responses.

– Insulin Resistance: Dairy products have a high insulin index, which can worsen insulin resistance and inflammation.9

– Saturated Fats: Dairy contains saturated fats that get incorporated into cell membranes, triggering inflammatory pathways.10

– AGEs: Processing dairy leads to the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs provoke inflammatory immune reactions.11

Reducing inflammation is key for Hashimoto’s, and eliminating dairy may help achieve this goal.

Common concerns about dairy avoidance

Many people have questions and concerns when considering removing dairy from their diets. Here are some common ones:

Will I have issues with calcium deficiency?

Dairy products like milk and cheese are high in calcium, so people worry about inadequate calcium intake. However, here are several reasons dairy avoidance may not lead to calcium deficiency:

– Research shows dairy avoidance does not alter bone mineral density or fracture risk.12

– Many plant foods contain calcium, including leafy greens, almonds, beans, and fortified non-dairy milks.

– Only 32% of dietary calcium is absorbed on average, while calcium supplements have absorption rates of 35-40%.13

– Vitamin D status has a major effect on calcium absorption and skeletal health.14 Supplementing with vitamin D if needed can help maintain calcium levels.

– Some people see improved symptoms after removing dairy and are able to exercise more, which can support bone health.

With prudent supplementation and a nutrient-dense diet, dairy avoidance should not lead to calcium deficiency for most people. Those with osteoporosis or at high risk may benefit from extra calcium supplementation.

Is it healthy to avoid an entire food group?

Dairy products comprise one of the main food groups in the USDA MyPlate guidelines. So is it healthy to completely avoid dairy in the diet? Here are a few points on this issue:

– Dairy is not an essential food group. Although avoided in traditional diets, dairy has only been widely consumed for about 7,500 years.15

– There are no nutrients unique to dairy that cannot be obtained elsewhere in the diet. Fortified non-dairy milks are a source of calcium and vitamin D.

– The nutrients in dairy like protein, fats, and minerals can be consumed through other foods. A Whole Foods Plant Based diet has been shown to be nutritionally adequate and support health.16

– For people with autoimmunity or allergies, avoiding trigger foods improves health even if they comprise a food group. Dairy avoidance is necessary for managing certain conditions.

With proper nutrition knowledge, dairy avoidance does not have to lead to nutrient deficiencies. It eliminates a common source of food sensitivity.

Won’t I miss the taste of cheese and ice cream?

For cheese and ice cream lovers, giving up these dairy products can definitely feel like a sacrifice at first. Here are some tips that can help:

– Take it slowly – try eliminating cow’s milk first, followed by yogurt, cheese, and finally ice cream once comfort with the diet increases.

– Find replacement foods you enjoy, like nut-based cheeses, coconut milk ice cream, soy/nut yogurts, etc. Search for dairy-free recipes online.

– Focus on all the immune-boosting whole plant foods you can now enjoy more of – fruits, veggies, beans, seeds, etc.

– Keep motivations for giving up dairy front of mind, like feeling better or having more energy.

– Allow occasional servings of non-cow dairy like goat/sheep cheese if not intolerant.

With an open mindset to try new foods and patience adjusting taste buds, dairy cravings will likely diminish over time on a dairy-free diet.

Foods to eat instead of dairy with Hashimoto’s

Eliminating dairy leaves room in the diet for many nutritious alternatives. Here are some delicious dairy-free foods to embrace:

Plant-based milk alternatives

Milk Alternative Nutrients
Soy milk Protein, vitamin D, calcium, potassium
Almond milk Vitamin E, calcium, iron
Coconut milk MCTs, iron, copper
Oat milk Fiber, vitamin B12, magnesium
Rice milk Vitamin B12, selenium

Plant-based milks provide hydration and nutrition without the downsides of dairy. Look for unsweetened and fortified varieties.

Calcium-rich plant foods

– Leafy greens – kale, collard, turnip, mustard, dandelion greens

– Cruciferous veggies – broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts

– Soybeans and edamame

– Tofu made with calcium sulfate

– Sesame seeds and tahini

– Figs

– Oranges and juice

– Beans

– Almonds

These foods contain highly absorbable forms of calcium. Aim for 5-6 servings daily.

Bone-building plant foods

– Soy foods – tempeh, natto, edamame

– Onions and garlic – contain bone-supportive polyphenols

– Shiitake mushrooms – excellent source of vitamin D

– Nuts and seeds – provide magnesium, zinc, vitamin E

– Avocado – healthy fats and carotenoids

Eating these regularly can help maintain skeletal health without dairy.

Probiotic foods

– Sauerkraut

– Miso

– Kimchi

– Kombucha

– Coconut or dairy-free yogurt

Probiotic foods support gut and immune health. Choose unpasteurized varieties when possible.

Tips for transitioning to a dairy-free diet with Hashimoto’s

Making big diet changes can feel challenging. Here are tips to smoothly transition to dairy-free eating:

– Take it step-by-step – start with eliminating obvious dairy like milk before addressing hidden sources.

– Read labels carefully to spot ingredients like whey, casein, lactose, etc. Many packaged foods contain hidden dairy.

– Cook more meals at home where you control ingredients instead of dining out.

– Inform friends and family about your dietary needs when eating together. Offer to bring a dairy-free side or dessert.

– Seek advice from a nutritionist knowledgeable about dairy-free diets for support.

– Find dairy-free recipes for your favorite comfort foods like pizza, pancakes, ice cream, etc.

– Stock up on essentials like plant milks, coconut creamer, and nutritional yeast to make dairy-free cooking easy.

– Join online groups for inspiration and community on your dairy-free journey.

– Hang motivations on your fridge like photos to keep your commitments front of mind.

With the right preparation and tools, eliminating dairy can become second nature. Be patient with yourself during the adjustment period.


Research clearly demonstrates that dairy consumption can exacerbate the autoimmune processes underlying Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Dairy proteins trigger immune attacks on the thyroid, negatively affect thyroid hormone levels, and drive inflammation. By removing dairy from the diet, people with Hashimoto’s may be able to manage their symptoms and progression more effectively. With careful nutrition planning and lifestyle adjustments, dairy avoidance does not have to mean nutrient deficiencies or food restrictions. A diet rich in plant foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, and sea vegetables can fully meet nutritional needs while optimizing the health of people with this challenging autoimmune condition.