Can kids be addicted to dairy food? Yep. Like, literally? Yep.
Here’s a common scenario in my pediatric nutrition practice: Young child, growing weakly or even presenting with failure to thrive (unable to grow above 5th percentiles), with developmental question marks (slow to talk, social anxiety), and behaving fiercely at the drop of a hat (tantrums). There may be reflux and constipation, possibly medication dependent. Worst case scenario, the child has required tube feeding, has Crohns diagnosis as a toddler, or has had a few scoping procedures with no clear diagnosis (which can be even worse!). Parents are weary and have been around the block: Specialists in GI disorders, developmental pediatrics, feeding therapy, and perhaps a neurologist or speech and language pathologist have all had their go’s at the child, but – improvements – if any – are meek, and dependent on pharmaceuticals or weekly therapies.
This is what dairy addiction can look like. Kids become so picky for foods with milk protein and nothing but milk protein (Pediasure, yogurt, milk, cheese), that they drive their health downward until they don’t grow, can’t play, can’t poop, can’t learn, can’t sleep. Seen it! Many, many times.
Or, this: Maybe your child isn’t this bad. Perhaps they just like I mean love a lot of dairy food. To the point where suggesting something else is a fiasco, and meals are tense. No veggies, beige foods only, no variation allowed. Lots of rigidity. Often, these kids are growing like gangbusters. Big heads, no problem gaining weight, and they love being loud, rough, and hyper – to the point where, once they’re 9 or 10 years old, this isn’t so cute anymore, and teachers are looking at you sideways for when you will medicate for ADHD.
Even in that case, you might be surprised at how differently your child behaves, grows, sleeps, or interacts, once that dairy protein (casein) is no longer a major feature in their day.
There’s absolutely nothing magical about dairy. Many other foods can deliver protein, healthy fats and oils, and more minerals, including calcium.
What’s going on here? This mechanism is not an allergy (though allergy or sensitivity may be present at the same time – that’s a different reaction altogether). In this case, a chemistry has evolved in which your kid is literally addicted to milk.
If milk protein isn’t fully digested, it can enter the bloodstream in a form called casomorphin, which, you guessed it, looks like morphine to the brain and central nervous system. Casomorphin is quite addicting.
A short list of foods can make these potent, habit-forming “dietary opiates”, if a gut is “leaky”, and not finishing digestion: Wheat, gluten, soy protein, and pea protein concentrates (like Ripple milk, or Daiya cheese products, or most vegan protein powders).
Not long ago, you could measure this with a urine test. This was never a standard-of-care test, and your pediatrician will likely never have heard of it. Called urine polypeptide test, it screened for the protein fragments (“peptides”) leftover when dairy protein (casein) is poorly digested. It also screened for same from wheat protein (gluten). These over-sized peptides can exist to a tiny, insignificant degree, after a healthy gut with good digestive function takes apart a wheat or dairy meal. But with weak digestion, an overly permissive gut wall (aka “leaky gut” – a gut that lets these too-big peptides pass through to circulation), and the wrong gut bacteria (that worsen rather than lessen the impact of these peptides), these peptides will show up in urine in larger than expected amounts. (Nowadays, the only test available for this is a blood draw to see if you make enough of the enzyme to break down dietary opiate peptides.)
If they’re in urine, or if the enzyme is lacking to break down food-sourced opiate like protein fragments, then they are circulating widely, and can also be in your child’s brain.
Why is this bad? Because these peptides mimic opiates. They bind the same receptors as drugs like morphine. They are indeed potently addictive. Children who adamantly refuse foods other than just wheat, just dairy, or both may have this addiction active in their brains. Here’s a schematic to show what happens:
Not only does this deny a child all the other foods, besides milk or wheat, needed for their brains and bodies to grow and thrive, it can cause constipation, trigger behavior that is hyper, volatile, or downright violent and combative; interrupt learning, social skills, and language development; cause a pattern of wakefulness between 12:00 and 3:00 AM; and delay potty training (sensations are dulled with these opiate-imitators).
In my experience, the more diet-sourced opiate measured in urine, the less verbal and more developmentally delayed the child will be. In fact, clinical trials with naltrexone, a drug used to treat opiate addiction, have shown better behavior in children with autism and increased verbal ability.The more functional the child is, the less likely that casomorphin will fall out of range – but if symptoms are active for constipation, hyperactivity, difficulty socializing, rageful reactivity, slow language progress, or dilated pupils, then I will look at eliminating the dairy anyway.
Most every child in my practice, whether they have an autism or sensory processing disorder diagnosis or no diagnosis at all, presents with nutrition challenges that can be addressed for better learning, growing, and being. Your child doesn’t have to be “special needs” to have a problem with dairy – see if the info below applies in your house.
What’s A Milk Addicted Kid?
These are kids who still rely on fluid milk as a major protein and calorie source, well past the age of twelve months, when weaning off breast or formula – as the bulk of daily calories and protein – is typically under way. They drink 40-60 ounces of milk a day (about five to eight cups), and displacing solid calories because of milk intake. This lowers intake of other foods that kids need by age two or three. Milk addicts refuse other foods. They are often oral tactile defensive – that is, they hate varied textures in foods, hate to eat or chew, perhaps have delayed chewing skills (which is why some stick to the bottle in the first place), or still rely on suckling a bottle, thumb, or pacifier to calm themselves. Oral tactile issues or oral motor delays may keep this child drinking from a bottle beyond age three or four. When they accept foods, it’s often dairy items only – sweet yogurt, cheese, ice cream. A few random solids might be in the diet, but on balance, their diets lack vegetables, meats, fruits, or foods rich in essential minerals, vitamins, and healthy brain fats. There is often pallor, allergic shiners, white dots on fingernails, and a blank countenance. Growth failure or a weak growth pattern is common in this scenario, but overweight and gaining well isn’t unusual either.
Either way, parents of milk addicted kids are often told by their doctors and feeding therapists – unwittingly – to turn to high-calorie milk-based drinks like Pediasure, Peptamen Junior, Carnation Instant Breakfast, or Boost, in hopes of providing a few micronutrients and extra calories. This won’t work, because it leaves the child still dependent on, and addicted to, opiates formed from casein, the protein source in these drinks. For non-dairy nutrition boosting options, click here.
These children often have neurological and sensory challenges that make a cold-turkey switch off of milk a sure fail. If bottle feeding is still in the picture, the cold turkey approach can really backfire, entrenching your child’s dependence on the bottle or milk, and fear of losing these, even more deeply. In this scenario, you need a nutritious milk replacement, minerals replenishment, correction for imbalanced gut microbes, and a sensory integration plan to replace the neurological organization that sucking on the bottle gives the child.
Developmentally, milk addicts (especially those with an autism diagnosis) who eat a lot of dairy seem to show the more profound language delays. When they are on the younger end, say age three or four years, they may speak more like a one to two year old, or be non-verbal. If they are school age, say six or so, they may have expressive language praxis issues, meaning that they can talk but not in a typical way. They may use echolalic language (repeating what they hear), misuse pronouns or refer to themselves in the third person, or misunderstand social context. This is often the first area of functioning that shifts when dietary opiates begin to disengage: Your child may begin to use language in a new, more typical way; make eye contact; or comply more typically with your requests.. within 2-3 weeks of being dairy free.
What To Do About Milk Addiction
1 – Talk to your child’s occupational therapist, if you have one, about what can replace the bottle in terms of its sensory benefit. Children with sensory integration disorder using a bottle at a late age may legitimately need this oral activity for self-calming, which they might not have mastered in other ways. Suddenly removing it with no alternative may trigger more setback than progress. A few inches of surgical tubing can be knotted for a child to suck, chew, and pull. Teething rings as for infants may work too. If your child craves and actually eats non food items, this is another problem called pica. It needs assessment and treatment, as it too can impair IQ, learning, or development. Read about pica here.
2 – If your child eats wheat and dairy foods, but mostly relies on the dairy, then replace gluten foods first and go gluten free. Kids don’t usually notice that the cookies, pasta, bagels, microwave macaroni and cheese, frozen pizza and so on are being replaced with gluten-free versions, as long as they still have their dairy fix. But gluten still has to go, because gluten can trigger the same opiate effect on the brain that milk protein does. Same goes for soy, and pea protein – so, don’t turn to Ripple milk, vegan protein powders (which often have soy or pea protein source), Daiya cheese substitutes (pea, again), soy milk, soy tofu, soy frozen treats, soy cheese substitutes, edamame, soy yogurt, and so on. Swap in the widely available gluten free versions first, with zero fanfare – and zero explanation, unless your child is functional enough to ask a few questions.
Pro Tip! —> Do not expect your child’s approval or even recruit their opinion at this point.
3 – After the gluten is gone, a few weeks in, approach the bigger battle: Withdraw all dairy protein (casein and whey). Begin with casein-free ingredients where they won’t be noticed. When baking, making smoothies, mixing mashed potatoes, or using a pancake mix (gluten free), sub in milks from almond, cashew, hemp, coconut (full fat canned or from carton) but not oat (contains gluten) or soy. Do not use soy milk or soy yogurt – it will trigger the same opiate chemistry. Eventually, your child will completely avoid fluid milk from any mammals (including you mom!) and products made from those milks: Butter, margarines with milk ingredients, cheeses, yogurt that is frozen, creamy, Greek, low fat, any fat, or fat free; Lactaid and lactose free milk (still has casein in it); cream soups and dressings (Ranch dressing, chowders, soups thickened with cream or milk), ice cream, sherbet, pizza or anything else with cheese, Goldfish or Cheezits or cheese puffs, and so on. Avoid foods whose labels say casein, whey, calcium caseinate, powdered dry milk, butter milk, cream, sour cream, cottage cheese, cheese, Parmesan, milk solids, or butter. “Dairy free” does not mean casein free, so read labels carefully.
My go to cheese substitutes omit soy and pea proteins: Miyoko, VioLife, TreeLine, and Kite Hill are my faves.
4 – Balance gut microbes. These help finish digestion. Long short, if none of this is working, a troublesome gut biome would be high on my suspect list – so get this part sorted out. Need help? Contact me!
5 – Get detox on board: A simple step is nightly Epsom salts baths to replenish magnesium and sulfur. Both minerals help liver, gut, and kidney tissue release toxins that may pile up as your child’s gut biome shifts with the new foods he’s eating. Magnesium is calming as well, while sulfur is key for many digestive and liver enzymes. Use about a cup per tub, or a half cup for a toddler weighing less than 30 lbs. Soak your kiddo for 10-20 minutes.
6 – Put in some healthy fats! Oils from nuts (if allergy-safe for your child), sesame oil, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter), avocado, grape seed oil are all excellent and healthful choices that you can sub in for cooking, baking, and dressings. Nut butters and nuts themselves also provide healthy varied fats. Fish oil supplements are a useful boost too, since milk addicts don’t get much (if any) omega 3 fatty acids. There are some excellent kid friendly products out there.
7 – Minerals! Supplement these until interest in mineral rich foods kicks in. Minerals are abundant in leafy greens, vegetables, bone broths, meats, eggs, and herbs. But before your kid is eating that stuff daily, bridge the gap with a mineral rich supplement. It should contain at least 15 mg zinc and cover selenium, chromium, manganese, molybdenum, and boron also. What about iron? Hard to say without you being my patient and completing an assessment with me. Iron is potentially toxic and deadly if dosed incorrectly. If marginal, it creates multiple functional problems (insomnia, hyperactivity, immune compromise, depleted serotonin and more). But don’t supplement it without guidance from your doctor. Or me.
You’re Good To Go!
The first few weeks of this may feel hardest, but stick with it – for a good four months at least. Some children respond quickly, some slowly. It all depends on the child’s nutrition picture at the start, and everyone is different. But one thing that usually happens in the first one to three weeks of total casein (and gluten and soy) removal is… Fireworks! When the opiates begin to vacate endorphin receptors in his brain, your child may start to be very unhappy with this new plan. They are experiencing withdrawal symptoms and it doesn’t feel great. The may stop eating, have more tantrums, not sleep well. Brace yourself – but don’t crack now. If you’ve done all of the steps here faithfully, you will minimize or possibly even totally divert the discomfort that this new food intake may briefly create. It’s temporary, and it is prelude to much healthier eating that feeds your child so he can learn, grow, and thrive to potential.
Hi! I am crying as i read this and all the comments because it hit home and it wasn’t until this that i realized my son is addicted to cows milk.
For background my son is 4 , autistic and has refused any and all foods blended / solid since 11 months. Weve done early intervention, food studies, ergs, etc and nothing has improved.
All he drinks is cows milk and toddler formula and im just trying to find the help i need to get him to eat food!
What is a good non dairy alternative? For reference my son has even refused different toddler formulas during pandemic when i couldn’t find his so he knows this specific taste so I’m worried i cant find something that tastes like milk but isn’t milk!
Roll up your sleeves, there’s work to do here. There’s more to this than finding a milk substitute. Believe me, it won’t work to try to simply switch that out without upstream footwork to correct what drinking milk for four years has done to your son’s brain. The very good news is, potential for improvement here is big. Get this e book for step-by-step help. You’ve done all you can with the usual interventions – now it’s time to get to the root of the problem. Keep me posted!
My two year old twin is thought to be on the spectrum, preliminary diagnosis. I came across your article and think that it might be a milk addiction. I’ve been following your book & directions and it’s been a week since we’ve removed dairy entirely. Just last night, my LO’s stimming (which has always been occasional & very light) was super frequent & heavy. Today, she is in the crankiest mood ever & her face is flushed bright red. Have you seen this before? Is this a common withdrawal symptom?
Yes – this is withdrawal from the effects of opiate-like molecules that come from milk protein. Unless you remove other opiate-like sources in the diet (namely, gluten, soy and pea protein concentrates) then the drama will continue. All of them need to go, but please do follow tips in the book for doing this gradually. I don’t recommend a “cold turkey” approach – because the detox process and the hunger strike that kids tend to launch are too challenging. Working it gradually will be easier on everyone. Lastly the flushing may be due to detox efforts that her body is making. You might see this resolve by restoring magnesium and sulfur, which is easily done by adding 1/2 cup Epsom salts to her bath near bedtime. These are available at most any supermarket or pharmacy. These minerals are used for calming neurochemistry, for digestive and liver enzymes, and for helping the body detoxify. Be sure to replace any withdrawn food with something of equal or better nutritional value – avoid the impact of hunger (getting “hangry”) on cranky mood.
Yes, we are doing nightly epsom baths. Thank you for your reply. It means a lot to me after what an emotional rollercoaster these last few weeks have been. Her identical twin shows absolutely no signs of ASD and is developing at an advanced rate. The only difference between the two is that the one w/ ASD traits was very milk dependent. She now pockets her food & it just dribbles out of her mouth. It takes me an hour to feed her anything but if I don’t feed her, she’ll just go hungry & lose weight. So I’m hoping & praying that it’s just that. Of course, we are also doing ABA therapy & speech therapy, & feeding therapy.
Trying to buy either/both of your books (milk and special needs one) but neither appears as available on Kindle.
How do I get an eBook then? (Don’t want to wait for shipping on a physical one)
You can download either as e books directly to your device (phone, lap top) – you don’t need a Kindle. Thanks for interest!
I read so much about the health benefits of raw milk and raw milk products (yogurt, cheese). What about giving those to your child in moderate amounts? Or do you recommend all children be off all types of dairy? Thank you!
Full disclosure: I LOVE milk and dairy food and am the lucky one in my house who can eat as much of it as I want and feel fine. I also really love raw milk and have enjoyed raw cow, goat and camel milk. So, for kids, if they can digest dairy and suffer no ill effects from it, it’s a wonderful food in my opinion – as long as it’s from organically raised grass fed animals (because pesticides and GMOs, but also because a grass diet for the animal changes the milk’s fat profile to a more favorable one). The trouble is the “ill effects” of dairy are often unrecognized, and this milk addiction business is one of them.
My 4yr old daughter is on the spectrum and anemic. She definitely falls into the milk addicted category, but refuses most foods except fruit, chips, cheese, fries, and peanut butter. Literally, that’s all she will eat. We’ve tried everything. She went an entire day nearly without until I caved and gave her milk. She won’t eat, no matter how long it’s been. I’ve tried almond milk, coconut, and silk. She knows. I’ve mixed 1/2 of each with milk, she knows. What can we do?
Yes, your daughter knows, because she gets a soothing opiate effect from any foods with wheat and milk proteins in them. This is all she will eat. I have seen children refuse food for as long as 9 weeks, eating very little. So, behavior techniques to wait this out don’t work, and this is why I meet so many children who fail in feeding clinic programs. Pick up a copy of this e book for how-to detail on stopping this pattern.
Hi Angela, have a look here for my response to your question – thanks!
My son is 4 yrs old now,but he takes milk in bottle, and 4 to 5 times 8Oz per day,he don’t take egg or proper breakfast or eat well,nowadays I’m feeling he is autistic but he not diagnosis yet, only one or two things are marked, I was searching for the diet plan for milk kids because I read dairy products are not good for autistic childs but I cannot help myself what to give or not,after reading your article I feel my son is milk addictive and he also takes pacifier, should I go to check him for autism test to child neurologist or not ? How I control him to stop taking milk as he only takes milk, home made wheat bread or sometimes chips, biscuits,pizza etc, should I give him supplement for healthy food intake, he don’t like fruits, chicken, veg, from 20 months before 20 months he ate all as his favourite
Your neurologist can assess developmental status, but has can’t help with nutrition guidance as this is not his/her purview. Click “Learn With Judy” tab above then go to “buy a how to book” and click on the Milk Addicted Kids book to get strategies to move off this eating pattern.
Hi single mom of a 18 mo don’t have much support or guidance and I’m struggling to get my son to widen his diet, his diet intake consists of mostly whole milk, apple juice and fruit sometimes. I’d say he dinks a good 30-40oz of milk a day!! He wakes up every night for a bottle too. I offer and sit down wit him to feed him and still refuses other foods then listed above. Beginning to worry about his linguist skills because he is not meeting the milestones. Could my son be milk addicted ?
I was also wondering if you have any easy meal plans guides or something maybe I can reference off of when I go grocery shopping Next time . Thank you so much and all of your information was very helpful ❤️🤞🏾🤞🏾
This is a great idea, and I’ve never done this except for my one-on-one clients. Duly noted! I will add this to list of resources to develop for 2021, and will share anything worthy on my Facebook page here – follow for updates.
Your little guy does sound milk addicted. At 30-40 ounces/day, he is leaning too much on it for his total sustenance and is missing out on other nutrients and foods he needs. This will impede his milestones. Pick up this e book for how-to on walking out of this.
My son is almost 2 and i am now realizing how severely milk addicted he is. This is day 3 for us, i should add he eats other foods- meat, broccoli, avocado, eggs etc. But would still drink over 40oz a day easily. My question is, should i make the switch cold turkey? Or taper off? Also how long does this usually go on for, last 2 nights have been brutal.
Switching cold turkey is not a great idea. If your child is truly addicted to milk protein, this creates a painful and frustrating cliff drop in his neurochemistry. Years ago, this was espoused as a good strategy – but in my experience, unless parents are very ready and girded for battle, it is too traumatic for everyone. I generally suggest moving gradually off dairy foods – and gluten, soy and pea protein concentrates (like Ripple Milk or vegan Orgain) will have to go to, so that your child doesn’t simply switch in a new dietary exorphin peptide for dairy. You can find a step by step process in this e book.
My daughter is a week from turning 16 months. I recently weaned her from formula to whole milk. She has been having HUGE meltdowns, banging her head, hitting herself, biting and pulling her own hair. I just realized last night that this all started right around the time that I completed the formula to milk transition. Should I switch her to almond milk? She eats a wide variety of foods, as we started baby led weaning at 6 months, so she basically eats whatever we have. This morning was eggs, bacon, hash browns and French toast. Added to that she drinks approximately four 6oz bottles of milk per day. Since stopping the formula she also wakes up for feeding between 1-3 times per night, which she never did before. I feel like she must be hungrier without the formula and I supply extra foods, but the behavioral stuff has me really concerned. What happened to my happy baby?
Cows milk does not sound like a fit for her indeed! But, no, almond milk alone will not meet her needs nutritionally. It has no protein, is very low calorie and virtually no fat in it. If she eats a good 30-35 grams of protein rich foods daily, other than milk, then you may be able to let her use almond milk as a substitute, but without bolstering it, it is nutritionally vacant. Besides the new behavior challenges, you have a big clue in that she is waking often. This means she is not eating enough during the day. Lastly, as I always remind parents, if these changes were at all coincident with vaccinations (15 month boosters, which per CDC schedule includes as many as twenty different antigens in one visit, then there is no clarity to be had here on whether the multiple shots or the milk or the combo of both have changed her trajectory.
My daughter just turned 3, and is still not talking as she should for her age. They have mentioned autism, but still aren’t comfortable diagnosing her with that, as she doesn’t meet all the check marks. We are ready to try cutting out the milk, as she does consume quite a bit. If we switch to an alternative (almond or coconut) will this provide protein? Or do we need to get the equivalent from other sources? I feel a bit overwhelmed at how to approach changing her diet without causing any other unintended issues. Any info you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much!
Hi Lory, short answer – no, coconut and almond milk don’t have enough protein or other nutrients to sub for cows milk. You do need equivalent protein from other sources. For some step by step help with this, short of working with me one on one, pick up these two books: Special Needs Kids Eat Right (you don’t need an autism diagnosis for this book to help you – get past the title and use the book!) and Milk Addicted Kids.
I am raising my 18 month old grandson who turned very aggressive at the age of 1 he also has multiple meltdowns a day . I have been reading that it could be possible that he has a intolerance to milk that could contribute to this behavior. Is it possible that he can have behavior problems with whole milk but no other symptoms?
Yes this is possible and I have seen it many times.
I think we are onto something. My son is 4 now but was once at the 1% at age 3. We discussed our struggles getting him to eat with the doctor and he said to do pediasures- yup. My son was doing good eating other foods for a bit, but mostly stored/stores it in his cheeks forever. And lately he wont eat ANYTHING and it just now occurred to me he’ll only really eat dairy. He was in play therapy for having crazy angry outbursts. He talks great, but says things in more of baby way. I feel like an idiot not seeing this before, but I also have a 14 year old with autism. He eats a ton of different foods, but he gets ice cream he can’t control himself. Wondering if he has this too? Both my kids are skinny as a rail. Not sure if that has to do with anything.
Sounds classic to me! If you’d like details on how to get off dairy (your kids will NOT like this, so don’t hope for their permission or approval) pick up this e-book. Things can be better!
This is,God,sent to us. Our child 5yrs old is in special Ed due to sensory and speech delay. He is very bright handsome boy but would have difficulty sitting still and focusing. Hyper silly at times and unable to calm down. He was,definitely obsessed with his milk and very limited diet. Just switching to water instead of milk, he is a different child. Truley amazing. We will try to introduce some gluten free foods now too.
Hmm well be sure to give him something more nutritious than water going forward, or you will see an even more malnourished child in short order. If he was truly addicted to milk, and mostly eating that at age 5, he is likely anemic and may have other nutrition problems. So give him some big protein and big fats/oils, and you should continue to see improvements.
My toddler’s diet mostly depends on milk and he eats less than 1oz of meat veggie purees a day! He has a limited vocabulary and low attention span. While I think he ticks all signs of a milk addict, I was wondering if I go cold turkey and remove the milk, what’re the chances the child will eat? I hope he won’t starve himself! And how long to continue this? He drinks about 20-30oz of toddler milk and 2oz of water per day
Cold turkey often fails. You need to do some upstream work for more success – like planning what protein will replace the milk (which is his major protein), what fats and oils will replace those in the milk he relies on, and what his gut is up to for helpful bacteria (these help digest food). I have seen kids starve themselves to the point of weight loss and failure to thrive, when this is done incorrectly. Pick up a copy of this e book for more guidance.
HI, I have 2.6 months old daughter she takes 25 oz milk a day and eats regular food rice, lentils, wheat chapatis, yogurt. We are vegetarians and I always thought way to consume B12 for us is dairy product only. My daughter is having language delay and looks inattentive . I just recently learned from a nephropath that I need to change her diet to Gluten Free and Cesien free. I started using lactose free milk for her. I need to consult for understanding the right amount of nutrition for her.
I disagree with your naturopath. A gluten free, casein free, and vegetarian diet is not likely to be successful or adequate for a child this young, especially if some delays are already apparent. Growth status also needs assessment, to find out if her diet was already leaving her bereft of some critical nutrition. If your daughter needs to omit gluten and casein, you might need to reconsider if she should temporarily add more animal proteins (which include a lot of minerals, vitamins, and important fats), eggs, or fish. B12 status is assessed with some blood work including a blood count (to look at shape and size of red blood cells, a B12 dependent thing). Your naturopath needs to complete more detailed nutrition screening relevant to a toddler’s age and stage, and needs to give you more detail about what to feed her. This has to be based on her growth pattern and a food diary of what she eats now. I’m not adding new families to my practice right now, but follow me on Facebook for updates on when I have new click-to-learn materials for parents.
Hi I,ve just read your post and found it really informative. My son is 9 years of age is autistic and non verbal. Apart from a multivitamin juice he only drinks milk and has to have grated cheese on meals. He used to eat varied diet but now he will only eat pasta with tomatoe based sauce. I would love some advice.
Your son is eating a woefully inadequate diet. If he is growing, that’s great, but his brain, immune system and other systems are not getting the tools they need to function as typically as possible. Start with this book right away to get some fast help and how-to advice. This is a big journey – arm yourself with knowledge before you start. I would also encourage you to read more about milk addiction and autism here.
Thanks a lot for your books & web blogs . we have learned lot of things.
after we manage to stop breast feeding on august 2018 . recently my daughter has shown some recoveries.
now she turn on/off fan when she needs
now she open / close bathroom tap when she needs
now she bring empty food plate when she hungry.
still no talking. it looks like she doesn’t want talk yet. hope will talk soon
during this period i gave her omega 3 fatty acid (500mg)/ Iron -6mg / zinc-4mg / elecare junior – these help her to reduce hyperactivity & more focus on everythings.
she is now 3 years & 11 mothns and 13th feb is her birthday & believe she will recover as a normal child and then she could go to school.
My son has had distended tummy and runny stool in the main for 2 years but not all the time. Recently it was picked up at age 21/2 that he’s not growing tall. So I stopped gluten and all wheat and then 2 weeks later gave him cheese and loose stool again, so now I’ve stopped dairy too.
Additionally, he is low in stored iron and I’m giving him a herbal iron tonic and understand avoiding dairy, corn and gluten will help his body to absorb iron.
I tried to research what people in Peru fed children as he is half Peruvian/Australian but didn’t manage to find anything helpful.
I find your comments are interesting and wondered if you can comment on this, plus healing the gut for toddlers and for what period? How long would you stop dairy and gluten (wheat and all grains)? Would you avoid Salicylates, how long for?
Hello Sally, you are already taking good measures – the key is replacing the wheat and dairy foods with equal or better value foods, not just starches or filler calories. Add in different proteins, diverse carbs, mineral rich foods and ample fats/oils. This will help him spare protein to use for linear growth. It’s reasonable to strictly and completely omit the wheat and dairy foods for at least six months. This gives the immune system some time to “forget” about them and for antibody levels to drop – if those are active. They may not be, and if they are, they may persist longer than six months depending on how high the reactions (IgG or E) were prior to elimination. I would not focus on salicylates unless you see a clear issue with them when exposed.
This analysis is great but I think a little misleading only true for milk with A1 casein protein. Mother’s milk has A2 casein which does not have the same addicting effect as the cow milk with A1 casein. Other options with A2 casein are goat, camel and sheep milk and cow milk from cows which produce only milk with A2 casein.
This is a good point and I asked one of the seminal researchers on this topic, Kalle Reichelt, about this very question in the late 1990s. His finding was that even mother’s milk (A2 casein) will form an opiate like polypeptide. Indeed I have seen this in effect in a big way in my practice, in milk-addicted breast fed toddlers past the age of two years, confirmed with urine testing and with symptoms that resolved when weaned. Goat and sheep milk also product a casomorphin polypeptide, though camel milk does not.
This is not the same as an immune reaction to the casein of course, which is why milks from goat, sheep, camel or human mom can be tolerated for some kids. Good to make the distinction and thank you!
I wondered if you could help me. My child is 8 months, he couldn’t tolerate breastmilk despite myself going on a TED. He was unfortunately blasted with antibiotics at birth & i am gluten intolerant myself. He was on cows milk formula & I switched him to goats milk formula (with big improvements to his reflux). However weaning has been different & he appears to be having reactions, although some are mild to most foods. Doctors have prescribed neocate but 1 day in he’s not sleeping well, hyperactive & agitated. Is this withdrawal or another reaction maybe to the glucose syrup. Really don’t know what to do anymore.
Hi Maria, Glad you asked! There are a number of reasons why the switch to Neocate can trigger agitation and hyperactivity, as well as a number of options to figure out how to successfully wean to solids and the right milk or formula. I can’t troubleshoot and advise here, so please do pick a slot on my calendar here and we can get started anytime. I work remotely or in person to sort these very questions out with families every week.
Terrible news to me. we are giving these foods to our daughter.
can you tell me the safety food list (cereail,grain,legumes) that not triggering opiate-like mechanism.
as you told me before we have ordered elecare junior from USA it’s too expensive . in here sri lanka we don’t have it (any elemental formula).
we have manage to stop all exorphin related foods as you advised. Now she (3 and half yeas old) has lot of improvements & she is now smart . but still not talking and we hope will talk.
i want to know that wheat , milk & soy is the only exophin contains foods. is there any other foods that can tigger same reaction?
is it safe to feed below legumes?
– urad dhal ( black gram)
– mung bean ( green gram)
– black eyed pea
It’s possible that legumes (pea, dhal, mung bean) etc may trigger similar reaction.
we have manage to stop giving casein,gluten & soy based products.
but my 3 years autistic daughter still feeding on breast milk.
it’s very hard to stop it. could you tell me a solution for this.
Hi Malinda, if your daughter is still having breast milk, then she is eating casein, and this will have same effects as any other dairy source on her gut and brain. Breast milk casein can form the same type of exorphin peptide that other mammalian casein does – in an injured gut, this triggers large head circumference, gut symptoms including constipation (though some kids have overflow diarrhea with this), and aphasia or delayed language skills. If it is hard to stop, this is another sign that she is “addicted” to the casomorphin formed from that protein. Normally of course in a properly functioning gut, breast milk for a three year old (or any organic non-GMO dairy source) can be perfectly fine. It’s not the breast milk that is the issue, it’s the child’s gut that can’t digest and assimilate it normally. If you’d like lab testing to confirm or rule this out, as well as guidance on how to feed your daughter healthfully and safely while she uses a special diet, click the appointments tab above to get started.
Dear Judy – I’m interested in buying your book on milk, but I have one question first. Does it include references to peer-reviewed studies, and scientific literature? Many thanks!
this book was written for a lay audience and is thus not annotated as a peer reviewed citation is. It IS based on my many years’ review of literature on this topic, as well as clinical practice experience, and of course my six years as an undergrad and graduate student in nutrition sciences and practice. If you enjoy reading primary sources, your best bet is to dive into PubMed and search on these topics. You can also view contents of this book on amazon with their preview feature, or pick it up at your local library, as many libraries nationwide have stocked it.
I have done a bit of searching the literature myself, but I feel your judgement on the research would be far superior to mine. I’m very interested in your recommendations, and have seen some changes in my healthy child after a few weeks of minimal dairy.
Good for you for digging in! Great news your child is doing better as a result. If you’d also like recommendations from me on next steps, best path is to set up an appointment, which you can do at any time by clicking the “appointments” tab above. Thanks for connecting!
Its very heartwarming to see your message towards Gluten and Milk which can affect a toddlers developments..I am from India and my Son is 2.11 months, he has not started uttering words yet and his eye contact was very less..There maybe 2 possible reasons he use to be watching phone or compiter frm the age 1.5 years and that too for hours together..It was our fault that we gave him the freedom! But there is another reason ie we started cows milk for the last 1 year and for past 6 months he use ro get frequent cough at night or mornings and sometimes even puke..just last 5 days back we realised that milk is reacting and thus we started giving milk diluted with water..And we cant believe cough has reduced but his behaviour has already changed dramatically he has now so much eye contact and listens to our insteuctions and started uttering 2 to 3 words..I want to ask you shall we atop milk completely? Can we give him pediasure with warm water? As he needs milk before sleep and morning and noon time? Secondly shall we even stop gluten food completely? He eats oats or wheat porridge in morning anf later lunch rice with lentils..do you think he will start speech by doing these? Waiting for your reply..
Hello, thank you for these questions… You can stop milk IF – and this is very important – you replace it with something of equal or greater nutritional value. Diluting milk without bringing in other proteins, fats, and mineral sources will injure growth and development. Pediasure is not a workable choice as it is made from milk protein. You could consider an elemental (milk, soy free) option like Elecare or Neocate for toddlers. Or since your son is past age two years, simply use food, and you can use coconut milk (whole, no added sugar) as long as you add a protein as well (stir in a collagen powder or be sure to include fish, chicken, egg or other high value proteins 2-3x/day). Yes you should also stop the gluten foods if you suspect intolerance or reaction (including oats, which are gluten contaminated unless specified gluten free) and again, replace with healthy starches of equal value – especially starchy vegetables like squashes, soft cooked lentils, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, rice, breadfruit, mango or gluten free grains. Allow 3-4 weeks and you may see speech start to emerge. He may have tantrums for milk and wheat after a week or two but I would persist. This behavior will pass if all is going as needed. If not, contact me for appointment and we can troubleshoot further.
Thanks for your valuable information. your article is the best among other articles on the internet.
in our country, we only have cow milk and soy-based products.
I replaced cow milk with soy formula (Cow & gate -brand) 8-9 months ago.
now I see soy-based product also have the same issue.
I tried to buy (novalac brand -novarice ” specially for kids ) but delivery is impossible to ” SRI LANKA”
do you have any idea that can buy a product to replace Soy & Breast Milk?
Hello Malinda, first things first – I’m not a doctor! I’m a dietitian/nutritionist. Next – yes there are soy and dairy free options, in elemental formulas such as Elecare and Neocate. These are available globally, so being in Sri Lanka should not be a barrier, as long as you have a physician willing to get it for you. There are versions of these available for infants as well as toddlers. But my real question is, how old is your child, is more formula the right step, or is there room now for other foods? If you would like help with these pieces you are welcome to set up an appointment. I often help parents remotely and can do this via web or phone. Thanks for checking in at my blog!
Well. this is great. I have to add something that I thought.
this is about my daughter.
is breast milk contain IGA antibodies? and if Wheat Gluten mixed with breast milk in guts then worsen the situation? CEleac???
Yes Immunoglobulin A is abundant in breast milk. Whether or not gluten will be problematic for a breastfeeding baby or toddler is variable – breastfeeding doesn’t trigger celiac disease and may even be protective against it, if gluten is introduced while kids are still breastfed.
thanks for the reply doctor.
I saw a video from open.osmosis.org.( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXzBApAx5lY )
that IgA antibodies present in intestinal line and once arrived gliadin peptide then attached together and absorb thru microvilli then activate immune reaction.
that’s why I thought breast milk worsen the guts situation by presenting more IgA.
some internet articles say that toxic peptide like casomorphin , gliadorphin can tranfer to child thru breast milk. if mother also has same situation (undigested peptide in blood like daughter)
one thing that i can say surely and confirm that soy milk tigger autistic reaction (no words form my daughter) when we give her 8 spoons a day. when we reduce to 2 tea spoon a day she talk at least few words and she is not shy to be alone. and stay room in alone.(2 1/2 years daughter)
also i can confirmed that after stopping Wheat,chickpea,peanut except rice. she is now not cring. before she cried twice a day at least 1 hour each time.
luckly we are now not experiencing that situation.
Yes it’s true that soy will trigger same opiate like peptide reaction as gluten and casein, in a situation with weak protein digestion and leaky gut. Have seen this many times. This will arrest language, alter behavior and sleep pattern, and can also be constipating. Glad you are making progress!
Very interesting article my son was formula fed and drank 35-40 oz daily came home at 2 days old drinking 3-4 oz every 3 hrs ….skip ahead to now age 6 is def milk addicted his diet is all dairy than chix nuggets pasta w butter or mac cheese…no veg no fruit besides applesauce…how would I take all dairy out? he would not eat ..he has ASD SPD and on the borderline of ADD …
Please pick up a copy of this book to answer your questions. Tells how to. I would also suggest you buy this e book also. You will have a good tool kit to start. I would ask you to read those even if you were thinking of working with me – it will save you a LOT of time, frustration, and money. Dive in – your son can eat, function, and feel much better.
I have a 2.4 year old boy who has not eaten one single thing in 206 days .. nore does he drink water/juice nothing .. he survives soley on nan LI .. we have taken him off the bottle twice and both times he was admitted into hospital with dehydration as he refused every substance offered ..
he has a lot of professionals in his life and we are all working hard in order to help him .. his formula is the only substance he takes anything that gets put into his bottle must be flavour free as he will not tolerate any new taste
Can you offer any suggestions?
The only solution I have seen succeed in cases like this is hospitalization for monitored transition off this pattern. I have one patient who required a 30 day stay to accomplish this, after we tried with measures at home monitored by me, his GI and his pediatrician. Once in-patient, he was fed via NG tube with elemental formula (no dairy, soy, gluten or other allergens) and monitored closely. He worked with a feeding team to teach him how to chew/eat. Your physician needs to step up and guide you with appropriate referrals for this intervention.
Hi Judy, my son is PDD-NOS. he was an 100% milk addict. Yesterday we found out in his blood work that he is allergic to milk but we did not have any other VisiBle signs other than delays. Also, his b12 vitamin came as high of 1400 when the max range is 900.
What does this mean? We are GFCF since last 2 weeks and this is our 3rd week. Please advise.
The symptoms that milk has negatively affected your son are likely deeper than you knew. The usual suspects are constipation, bloating, disrupted sleep pattern, behavior challenges (tantrums, rage reactions; or in some cases, kids are just too calm all the time), frequent illnesses or infections, and fierce devotion to milk, milk, milk. His B12 is above range because it is not being used properly by cells; this high level means he is needing corrective measures to use B12 properly in his body, not that he has too much of it. B12 is best measured with other tests that show where it is actually going in cells. Please pick up a copy of my e book on Milk Addicted Kids as well as a copy of Special Needs Kids Eat Right: Strategies To Help Kids On The Autism Spectrum Focus, Learn, and Thrive. Both will save you a world of hurt, cost, and mistakes in implementing a GF CF diet (which BTW needs to be also soy free – those books will explain why).
Does breast milk count as “milk” in this case? My nearly 2 year old is breastfeeding but not drinking milk other than mine. What are your feelings on other “healthy” milks like goat, camel?
Yes breast milk counts, as does goat or any milk from a mammal (camel milk may be an exception). It’s not that any of these are healthy or unhealthy. It’s that all of these contain casein (slight variations in the molecular structure by mammal) and they will all form opiate like peptides in a gut that is not working optimally. I have had several cases of all the impacts described in this post occur with breast milk, goat milk, etc.
So what to do about a possibly milk/gluten addicted teen? How to change that diet? He questions when there is a simple packaging change of a preferred food, so replacements will be noticed, questioned and refused. He’s an SPD kiddo and has been to the STAR center and worked with Dr. Toomey.
Hi Shannah, this is what I do in my clinical practice. It’s a process, NOT a behavior project, and must be individualized for each child. Even for teens, this rigid eating pattern can change, once the underlying nutrition and gut biome deficits are corrected. The SPD features are related to this food intake. These features can shift also, once the nutrition supports are in place. If your son has eaten this way for years, expect a six to twelve month transition period into different eating and functioning. If you don’t want to work on this with clinical guidance (you are welcome to make an appointment anytime), have a look at this e book on Milk Addicted Kids.
We took my son off of milk and gluten 2 weeks ago. We saw an immediate difference and Halloween came. He was given M&Ms and then we noticed he was slippijg back to old habits aka hyper, not listening, fog brain. So, we have taken away dyes too. It’s been 6 days without dyes now. But he continually is being hyper, not listening, and fogged brain. Could these be symptoms of withdrawal from gluten and Casein? If so, when does this stage pass? Is this all normal after switching? When will the first week come back of a much calmer child who listens and can focus! Ahhh lol.
Good for you for diving in! To answer all these questions and help you avoid pitfalls, pick up a copy of this e book. Problems solved. You can go in more depth on exactly what is happening here with this paperback too. There is more to do besides just remove gluten and casein or dyes. Your son likely has gut dysbiosis that needs correcting too as well as deficits for other nutrients, and the hyper won’t go away til you fix those.
Thank you so much for this article. I do not eat dairy and breastfed my son for the first year. He started on milk after age one year and started having mild SPD and language delays. He had autistic features now at age 3 years. He refused to potty train and had lots of issues with stool withholding. He does seem better when dairy-free but had not been dairy free for any extended period of time as the school or camp always seem to forget and he loves cheese and other various snacks the give like yogurt and goldfish.
I know I have a terrible gut biome as I now can no longer tolerate gluten – makes me fatigued and depressed. I avoid gluten and dairy and take a probiotic and try to drink Komboucha.
Should I have my gut and his tested by stool samples? What test and where to get this done?
You can, I do offer these in my practice, as do most functional / integrative practitioners. But your son probably has other issues besides gut biome in his way. You can sort this out by reading Special Needs Kids Eat Right. You can also pick up a copy of my e-book on this topic here to get more detail, or set up a time for us to troubleshoot specifically for your son – check the Appointments section of my site.
Hi Judy, do you have a weekly food schedule of what you think toddlers should be eating. I’m going to slowly take the milk off my son over the next two weeks. He also loves bread, rice and pastas… I really want to try stay clear of all those carbs, but he refuses to eat anything else. Is there anything I can do to encourage him to eat better foods? My husband and I are very healthy eaters and it kills me that my son refuses all vegetables, meat, eggs, fish
Sure Kelly, this is one of the many services I provide to my clients. It’s also important to troubleshoot why kids are picky, this is done with lab assessments typically. Make an appointment any time and we can get started.
Hi I have a son who is not yet diagnosed but received early intervention and was high risk for it. My child has been addicted to milk since he was born. I barely breastfeed but even then he was addicted to formula and now cows milk….he likes yogurt that’s all the dairy he loves. He drinks about 3 8ounce bottles daily. Yes he still will never let go of his bottle I cut cold turkey and for 2 days he was dehydrated he is terrified of sippy cups anything not a bottle with nipple…. He will even suck on his bottle if its empty he just turned 3 on April 23rd. Another major concerns he will never chew foods he can eat anything but I have to purée or blend until smooth traveling is hard and feeding him is just a battle 3x a day. Last but not least of his issues he does not talk at ALL at the age of 3, he says mama and baba but just babbles does not refer to us or know the meaning…So my question is does this sound like he is addicted to milk? And if casein and gluten diet should be tried? I don’t if he has severe sensory issues it is addicted but either way he has major issues in speech and interaction as well as all sensory. I love this article and I connected with so much of the findings with son. Thank you!
Yup, this is a classic scenario of milk addiction. As you found out, just trying to pull out the dairy is a sure fail. What to do? Coincidentally, starting TOMORROW Monday May 2, there is a Child Health Summit and I am one of the speakers. It’s a free on line event. I talk about this exact problem and what to do. You can also receive a free e book on busting milk addiction if you sign up and listen to my talk. Go for it! Register here, it’s free.
Hi, I’m curious about how all or nothing this is. My son loves milk but only asks for it about once a week, we live in Asia so dairy is very rare. But it’s in bread,etc (we’re not ready to go gluten free – yet. We don’t have those convenient gluten free options as we’re not in a big Asian city.) Is it that, well if he gets a tiny bit then forget it, the project is blown; or is it, cut down as much as you can and see what happens. My son has mild SPD symptoms but has made immense progress since diagnosis last year (he’s age 7). We did a Whole 30 last March and didn’t see improvement, but there are a lot of factors and after a month we added foods back in over time, and I know things can take many months to detox. Living abroad makes it a bit tricky; on the other hand, we all eat a ton of fresh veggies daily and for super cheap!
Hmm – lots in the mix here. A “Whole 30” is an elimination trial – I don’t use these in practice for children past infancy, because it is simply too much time and effort. It is much faster and more accurate to do a little blood work to see exactly what foods are triggering. This can be done with finger lancet blood collection method at home if a child is terrible about venipuncture (as they pretty much all are – but can do fine in the hands of an experienced phlebotomist). And, as you’ve found, the Whole 30 didn’t really help. It’s likely that the SPD symptoms are related to nutrition factors as this is very common. Visit my home page here to download your Sensory Nutrition Checklist for free. As for the dairy, it truly depends on your kid, if a little is going to be problematic. The only way to definitively know this is to do some blood work, or, remove dairy completely even trace amounts for 4-6 months then reintroduce. A 30 day trial is in my experience not long enough. And, if there are other foods also triggering, if they are on board while the dairy is out, your results will be murky. So, do the blood work, and go from there.
A few q’s – just go off the milk addict cold turkey, right? No going off slow? You mention fireworks after a few weeks. Ok to use chamomile? Or Camilla for rage or anxiety?
How a family withdraws milk protein is up to them. Going cold turkey does not work for everyone. Parents have to choose the strategy that they feel most confident using. Whether you do this slowly and gradually or all at once, you have to be confident in yourself (because your kid is going to hate it – at first). Map your strategy before you begin, including whether or not you would like to use anything to quell anxiety. Download my e book on Milk Addicted Kids for deeper guidance.
Although rich in minerals, bone broth is also rich in free glutamate…
Thank you for this interesting article. Once dairy is removed from a chid’s diet, is it necessary to supplement with Calcium, and if so, do you have any recommendations? Our pediatrician was concerned about calcium intake as a result of being dairy/gluten free and suggested taking Tums periodically, but not sure if this is best approach or something that needs to be specifically supplemented in children – ages 8 and 11. Thank you.
Depends on what other foods your kids eat. Many foods are calcium-rich, and milk is no magic bullet here, especially if it is an inflammatory protein for your kids. That will disrupt absorption of all nutrients if it is. I’m not a fan of TUMS as a calcium supplement. TUMS are a buffering agent that reduces the absorption of all minerals including calcium. Check out lists of calcium-rich foods and serve your kids’ favorites daily. If you want to supplement, use calcium citrate, tri-calcium phosphate, or calcium lactate (the latter does not have milk protein in it), which are more absorbable than the calcium carbonate in TUMS. And more importantly, replace the protein and fats your kids got from milk and dairy foods. Make sure they get protein rich foods in the place of all the dairy they ate. The calcium-dairy topic is covered in my books too. Thanks for asking!
What an amazing summary of both what i have managed to glean from sources and that i have noticed with my 6year old!! After over a year both gf and df and little change, we happened to run out of soy milk (her drink of choice after going df) and resorted to my (more expensive) almond milk. What a different child!!! Happy, settled, focused, loving, emotionally stable and even her dyslexia and auditory processing issues rapidly improved overnight!! A year ago i would never had credited the impact of foods to this type of behaviour/processing/overall functioning!!
Love the article, thank you.
Is there a chance this addict behavior can happen to kids drinking almond milk? I googled addicted to almond milk and this article came up. I swear the symptoms are the same! I am definitely worried about my daughter!
Hi Erica, the casein sourced opiate-like mechanism is not operational with almond milk, but there could be other reasons fueling this behavior. If you’re using sweetened almond milk (all of it is sweetened unless it says “unsweetened”) then she may be addicted to the sugars in it. This will be true for chocolate, vanilla, or regular almond milk, all of which have added sugars. In this case, your daughter probably has a fungal load in her gut flora that is driving her cravings. The solution is to kick out the fungal load with strong herbs or (prescription meds in some cases), replenish minerals, and work with high potency probiotics (25 billion CFU daily or higher).
So interesting! My daughter has CMPA and has been df and gf for most of her life. Def in no rush to try to re-introduce dairy after reading this! Thank you
Very interesting article.
Really interesting, thanks for the information.