Does Milk Cause Mucus?

by Kathy | Disclosure

Dairy and Phlegm

Allright, if you’re not grossed out by the title of this post you are probably a fellow sufferer of a condition I’ve dealt with my entire adult life. What’s that you ask? Excess phlegm production … yuck! You’ve most likely been on the receiving end of the most frequently heard advice for those with chronic runny noses, sneezing and coughing … never drink milk or eat any dairy products. This well-meaning advice comes from many alternative medical practitioners, your sister-in-law’s personal trainer, the guy in the cubicle next to you and your kids :-). So it passes for common sense in many circles, it is so widely known. And I did try it for a good long while. My personal experience has been the exact opposite though … adding raw dairy to my diet relieved me of 90% of my troubles with sneezing, coughing and phlegm just in general. And I think it can help you too!

What Happened When I Removed Dairy from my Diet

For years I’ve had trouble with sniffles, sneezing and coughing in addition to my asthmatic wheezing. For me the sniffles started in middle school and I was promptly put on a years worth of allergy shots. Didn’t help. Then came the antihistamines … didn’t help. By the time I was twenty my sinuses were basically swollen shut most of the time. Had not one but two sinus surgeries … didn’t help. So I took matters into my own hands and read every book I could get on alternative health and diets. I decided a vegetarian diet was the way to go. I learned from these books that dairy frequently causes excess mucus. I thought, so here’s my problem! It also helped convince me that I had an anxiety reaction when I had milk. So I went without dairy for about 3 years … didn’t help. I could go on about the things I’ve tried, but it’s such a long list that I’ll have to save it for about another 10 other posts ;-).

So what did help?

Two things really, celtic sea salt.

Right after I discovered Nourishing Traditions one of the first things I did was switch our household salt from Morton salt to Celtic Sea Salt. We were having an exceptionally hot summer and I was drinking a ton of water. And my mucus/sneezing condition got much worse than normal. Normally, I might have sneezed for about a half hour every morning with a few sneezes every hour accompanied by a runny nose. This was far, far worse. I was now spending HOURS every day sneezing. I was having trouble getting things done I sneezed so much! It just so happens that I read a little reminder that your salt intake needs to keep up with your water intake, so a pinch of salt for each glass of water. I started eating a pinch of salt off-and-on throughout the day. This helped keep the sneezing fits somewhat under control.

Next, I found a farmer nearby selling raw milk! I was so excited to try it … we had kept goats and milked them for a few years, but since we weren’t very methodical about it we didn’t get any sizable quantity of milk. Now we bought many gallons of whole, raw milk. We chugged it morning, noon and night for months. And almost immediately the sneezing fits that had plagued me for years went away completely. The runny nose that had forced me to carry around handfuls of tissues everywhere I went was greatly reduced. And that from that much demonized milk!

Would this work for you too?

Raw milk was a great help to me, as you can see. But note that it was raw milk that helped me, not pasteurized milk from the store. It’s entirely possible that pasteurization is the source of the mucus myth and not the milk itself. Many people who are intolerant of pasteurized milk and cheese can eat raw milk and cheese without any problem. This was true for me definitely. In my early 20’s I was very sensitive to milk with all the typical symptoms of digestive troubles along with high anxiety after having some, no matter how small the portion. I grew to where I feared milk and I replaced it in my diet with rice milk. But mostly I just stopped having it. Now I drink about a quart of raw milk each day along with a good helping of raw high quality cheese without problems.

I don’t doubt that there are many people who have true allergies to milk and certainly a switch to raw won’t help them. But there are many with a simple intolerance to dairy and I’d like to encourage those folks to give raw milk a try and see if it is of benefit to them. I hate to see those with a problem with pasteurized milk bypass this most excellent nutrient dense food when it’s possible that pasteurization is the true source of the trouble. The only way to know for sure is to try it out for yourself. Of course, if your reaction to milk is very severe or serious, like anaphylactic serious, a trial run seems ill-advised.

How Does Pasteurization Encourage Allergy and Mucus?

In pasteurization milk is heated to one degree or another. This can vary by quite a bit but most grocery store milk is heated to the higher end of the scale. What this does is cause damage and distoration in the proteins in the milk. Your immune system then reacts to these proteins it cannot identify. Livestrong sums it up pretty well with:

This heating process can cause milk proteins to change shape, which inhibits their absorption through the small intestine and causes them to be absorbed instead by Peyer’s patches in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby inducing allergies through a cascade of molecular events.

So your immune system overreacts to what it sees as foreign invaders, leading to inflammation and your bodies response to help protect your tissues and sooth that inflammation: mucus.

What Would Granny Say?

Here on Granny’s Vital Vittles we always want to consider Granny’s point of view on drinking milk. Just what would she say about the controversy over whether or not milk causes mucus?

She would tell us all to quit being so silly and get back to doing something useful :-)! People have drank raw milk since the beginning of recorded time and they were not coughing, sneezing, snotty-nosed wrecks! That would be proof enough to satisfy her.

Am I Completely Cured?

Basically, no. But I am so greatly improved that my quality of life has risen markedly. No more sneezing fits, no more sniffling and wiping my nose in meetings with relative strangers, no more severe sinus headaches from all the congestion. I do still have some sinus congestion along with my asthma, but no more sinus infections! How long I have longed for just that! Raw milk has been great medicine for me, sweet delicious medicine that I can no longer go a day without missing.

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Granny LOVES a great discussion! A thoughtful, in-depth look from all angles benefits us all. If you disagree let us know! But please remember you're in Granny's house and be respectful of that. If you wouldn't say it in your Grandma's hearing please don't say it here! No name-calling or foul language. Those comments that don't respect Granny's home will be deleted.

Brittany A January 21, 2013 at 10:00 am

Thanks so much for this informative article. I am in my mid twenties and have lived for years with constant sinus pressure and was told by a wellness coach that eliminating milk would help. I have eliminated all pasteurized milk products for about a year with no improvement. I still eat raw cheese regularly and now finally have access to raw milk! I am going to try it and see if it helps. I also bought some kefir grains to make kefir with the raw milk…so we will see.

Kathy January 21, 2013 at 10:34 am

Your experience sounds so similar to mine … I hope the raw milk helps. Be sure to try the salt as well, particularly if you’ve been eating a diet low in processed foods. I think most of us real foodies could do with a little more salt in our diets.

Leslie January 21, 2013 at 5:15 pm

That’s interesting … everyone seems to have different experiences and being able to try raw dairy would be great (illegal where I live). I gave up dairy–all dairy including yogurt and cheese–about a year ago and definitely noticed a change within two weeks. Lifelong sinus congestion and never being able to take a full breath … and now: breathe easily and deeply, and the one cold I had lasted four days without the dreaded sinusitis. I do miss yogurt and cheese though, but it’s just not worth it.

Kathy January 21, 2013 at 5:22 pm

It’s really a crime that raw milk is still illegal in places. I’m virtually certain it’s some mix of pasteurization, synthetic vitamins added, antibiotics and hormones that were the source of my anxiety reaction all those years ago. If I couldn’t find raw dairy I’m pretty sure I’d just have avoid all dairy myself, which would be a real problem for me. I do very well on it, but in my case it really has to be high quality.

Rachel January 23, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Depending on where you live, you might be able to buy raw milk that is “not for human consumption” from local farmers. They drink this milk, but it is against the law (in Oregon) to sell it for people to drink so it is sold “for pets”. Although at like $10 a gallon I don’t think anyone actually buys it for pets.

Melissa from the Blue House January 21, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Yet another benefit of raw milk!! I don’t know why I’m still so scared to try it.

Kathy January 21, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Don’t be scared Melissa! Maybe you’d feel better about it if you tried just a little sample then wait a bit to confirm that it agrees with you.

dabney January 23, 2013 at 7:18 am

0 how i wish!!! Unfortunately my sinuses still fill w/unpasteurized goat cheese & when i tried raw goat milk i reacted to the estrogen content. So, not everything for every body.

Kathy January 23, 2013 at 9:03 am

So sorry it didn’t work for you, but really glad you shared your trial run with us here. My hope for this post is to encourage those intolerant of dairy to give unpasteurized products a trial run and see if they experience the same issues. Some will I’m sure and some won’t. My guess is that over 50% won’t have the same issues. Until we have enough responses though we just don’t know for sure. Think of it like a mini-unscientific-poll ;-).

dabney January 23, 2013 at 9:05 am

Still, i’m glad to see these issues aired & compared!!!
appreciate you Kathy!

Tahesha January 23, 2013 at 11:32 am

Thanks so much for this post as I myself was unsure if I should keep giving my son milk while he has a cold. I found that taking him off of milk didnt help at all.

Kathy January 23, 2013 at 11:44 am

Sometimes you just have to experiment. When my youngest was a toddler he was prone to ear infections. I decided to experiment with taking him off pasteurized milk for awhile and I did see a big improvement. He was able to return to drinking pasteurized milk when he was a little older without a recurrence of the ear infections. He now drinks lots of raw milk without problems.

Hazel January 24, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I grew up on raw milk from ages 8-12, and loved the taste of it, but had no idea how lucky I was at the time.
My brother had allergies to milk prior to us having our own cows. I think he still had hay fever, but I don’t recall if it decreased for the 4 years he was milking the cow.

So it sounds like raw cheese can give similar benefits to raw milk? I’m hopeful, because we spend a small fortune on raw cheese because we cannot get raw milk in my state, so that is our only option, other than illegal shenanigans or getting a cow!

Jennifer January 26, 2013 at 7:49 am

Just a consideration: pasteurized milk is usually also homogenized, so I would first want to figure out if excess mucous was being caused by pasteurization or homogenization. Nearly all pasteurized milk comes from grain-fed cattle, and these days most of the grain in the United State is GMO, so those are other factors to consider as well. Milk is a complicated substance, and the industrialization of cattle rearing and milk processing means that many factors need to be teased out before we can say for sure what in milk is causing excess mucous production. I don’t see research money rushing in to figure it out–there’s no profit in it. I prefer raw cow milk myself, from farmers who raise mostly grass-fed, non-GMO grain-supplemented cattle and who allow potential milk drinkers to check out the conditions of their cattle and dairy operations.

Kathy January 26, 2013 at 8:05 am

Yep, it’s difficult to tease apart. For the layperson the best thing is to simply avoid pasteurized milk from grain-fed cows, then you’re avoiding all the likely suspects completely.

lauralee January 26, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Loved the article. Suffered like you did for years not knowing it was dairy but I am truly allergic. Grew up with raw milk and had it up into high school. It wasn’t until I completely removed it from my diet altogether that I cleared up and have been allergy free for years. Now if I do eat something with dairy I get a little congested but break out horribly! So mine is kind of the opposite of yours. I wish I could drink raw milk again but my family at least can enjoy it – except my son because he is like me with raw milk.

meSufferingToo August 24, 2013 at 12:55 am

Just for curiosity,

I have not tried raw milk yet.

But all the raw milks are not the same. They are different. So, the raw milk you had grown up with was from Grass-fed cows? No grains-fed cows? The grain-fed cows has lots of problem as the recent researches have revealed.

I myself have suffered from TOO excessive flems for several years now. I never liked dairy foods, but I also noticed that whenever I drink Milks, the problems got worse. But, I now willing to test myself with raw milks, but only with Grass-fed raw milks. Grain-fed raw milks are simply NOT worth to try. And I suspect that antibiotics had been abusive to my body b/c I have gone through major surgery several times. And American doctors are the blames too b/c they prescribed antibiotics whenever I suffered from sinus infections which never was helpful in the long term. One day, I stopped visiting doctors for sinus infection and determined to stop antibiotics or die. It must sounds odd, but Since then, I never get sinus infection any more, although I still suffer from excessive Post-nasal drips. I don’t trust western doctors any more.

Kathy August 24, 2013 at 8:12 am

Yes, grassfed raw milk is the way to go. I have a very similiar history with sinus infections. I need to write something about that!

Kristina Aguirre February 26, 2013 at 6:20 pm

I finally took the plunge and started using raw milk (from Organic Pastures here in So Cal). I have a question about the odors. If I drink slowly and it gets a little warm, it starts to smell a little like cheese which is understandable. But I left it in the fridge once and two days before the exp date on the carton, with over half of a half gallon left (at $9) I wanted to finish it off but it smelled like pennicillin (that’s the only way I can describe). Is that normal? I achingly threw it out. I thought it technically didn’t go bad and can be used for other stuff. Is that only if you don’t refrigerate it? I’d like to know the ins and outs of using it.

Kathy February 27, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Older raw milk will smell pleasantly sour unlike pasteurized milk which just plain smells bad when it’s old. You can use raw milk that’s past it’s sweet prime in baking, or you could do what I do and make cream cheese and whey.

Mrs. Nancy Bowman March 1, 2013 at 2:06 am

Just found your page, and I really like your style! I also love how you’ve treated so many important topics under one “roof”. I’ll recommend you!

Kathy March 1, 2013 at 9:37 am

Thank You!

Courtney April 29, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I’ve actually found that fermented cod liver oil helps with my allergies too.

Betty May 3, 2013 at 2:12 am

I haven’t noticed a difference in my allergies because of switching to raw milk. I wish I had though! Whats really helped was vitamin c (acerola) and Alpha Lipoic acid supplements. I really see a difference in mucus production when I take them.

wisewillowlizzy November 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I’ve been consuming raw goat milk and making goat milk cheese and yogurt for almost two years. I have congested sinuses, I’m guessing from allergies, post-nasal drip, and suffer from chronic sinusitis. I decided that I may have to consider giving up the goat milk products because nothing else seems to make a difference. Judging from these posts, it may or may not help. I’m intrigued by the Celtic sea salt concept. I heard from a co-worker that he cured his asthma by drinking sea salt in water. How did sea salt help your condition?

Kathy November 13, 2013 at 8:52 pm

It made a pretty big dent in relieving the sneezing fits I had been prone to for years. Sounds too simple to be helpful but believe me it helps!

Rebecca LoGuidice November 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Just as a matter of caution – I live in dairy country, where one of the big issues is bovine tuberculosis, which was the cause of a majority of TB cases in the early 20th century. Pasteurization is not something that was invented to ruin milk, but was done as it kills the TB bacteria in milk which can be, as was, easily transmitted to humans. While cattle are currently tested for bTB, the test is 68-95% effective. Granted, there are now antibiotics that assist in TB treatment, although if you study world statistics, they are becoming less effective. ‘Raw’ milk is not necessarily ‘organic’, and it is commonplace for the dairy industry to over-use antibiotics in an effort to keep their dairy herds ‘healthy’. While raw milk certainly is more probiotic, I would just suggest a bit of caution here. Bovine tuberculosis is a serious cattle issue worldwide, and presently, pasteurization is the only defense guarantees that it is not transmitted in milk products.

Kathy December 1, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Hi Rebecca … I understand your concern is a common one. Explaining why concerns about tuberculosis are grossly overstated would take a lot more time than I have to go into it and would really divert the discussion on milk and phlegm, which I know we are all really enjoying, lol! 😉 So let me point you to a chapter of the book “The Untold Story of Milk” specifically discussing the safety of raw vs. pastuerized milk in great detail. I think it can answer all your concerns. I hope to do a summary post on the subject soon.

Kathy (visitor) March 21, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Protein is denatured in the stomach and digested before it is absorbed as amino acids. Hard to see why heat denaturing would be so horrible when stomach acid denatures proteins too. We never absorb whole proteins into our blood stream.

Kathy March 22, 2015 at 10:18 am

I can think of a few reasons just off the cuff. With a little more time to spare I could write a whole post on the subject, and maybe I will. I’ll add it to my to-do list :-) But for now the first thing that comes to mind is the stripping of nutrients other than proteins that takes place during the process. This is a very big deal all by itself. And the denaturing of proteins during processing is quite different than what your body does to break down proteins for digestion.

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