How Ditching Dairy Cured My Asthma

In 1992 I cured myself of asthma and it’s never returned.

I’m going to back up just a bit. During my senior year at UCLA I got a job working for a friend who worked for an actor. My job was basically to send signed photos to fans and pick up takeout, and honestly I think I handled both tasks with a surprising competence for a philosophy major. The actor and my friend were both vegan, and while I didn’t give this fact too much thought at the time, it did sound awfully crazy…then.

In 1992, having graduated the previous year, I was pursuing what a BA in philosophy had prepared me very well for — a career as an indie rock musician. But I was also a chronic asthmatic. Asthma runs in my family. My father and his siblings are all asthmatics, and I had suffered from asthma attacks as a very young child. I carried an inhaler and did what asthmatics did, which was to keep the inflammation at bay. When going for runs, I’d take a hit before the run, and definitely one after.

This was my life until my friend and the actor we worked for handed me a book called Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. After reading that book (the first of many, many nutrition/diet books to follow) I made one single change to my diet, and within a month I was asthma free. That change was to remove all dairy from my diet (milk, yogurt, cheese) most of the time. At the time I didn’t change much else — still ate fish, white rice (didn’t even know about brown rice), and plenty of white flour in the form of refined pasta and sourdough bread. On occasion I would have some cheese or milk and the next day have another asthma flare up. This pattern continued on for the next few years.

However, almost bigger than the removal of all dairy was my newfound fascination with diet and nutrition. Still a struggling musician working two “day jobs,” I began reading book after book and slowly continuing to transition my lifestyle in a healthier and healthier direction. Little did I know at the time that years later (2009 to be precise) I would become a certified nutritionist, health coach, and author of a book on the philosophy of health.

What I honed in on in my nutrition studies was the body’s natural stress response, and the profound way in which nutrient dense foods can aid the body to better handle stress of any kind. Chronic stress weakens the immune system, and a result of a weakened immune system is increased inflammation. I wondered early on why removing dairy from my diet would have anything to do with my lungs, but I now had my answer. Simply put, it was causing my body stress.

Food allergies are not all alike. Allergies like those to tree nuts and/or peanuts (immunoglobulin type E allergies) are immediate. Have a little, and your body responds immediately. But it turns out there’s another, even more common food allergy which involves the IgG antibody (immunoglobulin type G). The body’s response to foods that trigger the IgG is delayed, and can take anywhere from an hour to three days. I was essentially consuming dairy on a daily basis and having a delayed allergic reaction to it in the form of asthma. My body was so bogged down by what was happening in my gut, it couldn’t properly assess what was happening in my lungs, and was inflaming as a response.

After a few years of just occasional dairy (the following day I would have a bout of asthma), I finally decided once and for all to remove it from my diet altogether, and then went a step further in 2002 and became 100% plant-based. In 2005 I went even further and became almost entirely whole plant-based and gluten-free.

Now, at 45, my energy and fitness levels far exceed what they were at 25. I'm running 50-55 miles a week and training for my second marathon. I simply do not miss carrying an inhaler, so there's no conflict in me about whether or not to eat cheese. Having been weaned for over 12 years now, I now see the problems that can arise from an adult mammal who still breast-feeds (in the form of milk/cheese/yogurt). The quality of my life is greater without it, and I see the food I choose to eat as a gift in every way. For me it is not restrictive at all, and my challenge now is to show others that there's nothing to give up on the path to greater health and happiness.

I made similar recommendations to my father a few years ago, and now at 76, he is asthma-free as well. The resiliency of the human body at any age is still profoundly amazing to me ….

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