Inflammatory Response: When Science & Ag Collide

Dec. 15, 2020
It's a precarious thing to report on the food and beverage industry while simultaneously questioning where its pieces and parts fit into your own life. 

It's a precarious thing to report on the food and beverage industry while simultaneously questioning where its pieces and parts fit into your own life. Lately, I've been in buried up to my eyeballs in articles, studies, and research about a topic that never really crossed my mind until this year. And that topic? Dairy; specifically, how I'm digesting information about dairy products. 

But first, let me back up a little bit and tell you a story for some context. I have an autoimmune disease. It doesn't matter to you which one it is, but the fact of the matter is my body is chronically fighting itself and at least one of my important organs has become shrapnel because of it.

I have a whole team of doctors that advise me on how to live as healthy of a life as possible. In an attempt to prolong my life, however, I find myself fighting with the very research and scientific studies I read and report on for work. 

Say Cheese!

One recommendation I've been given is to cut dairy out of my life. Depending on what you read or who you listen to, dairy appears to prompt an inflammatory response in people's bodies. While that might not sound too awful on occasion, the fact of the matter is my body has been at DEFCON 2 for a few years now, so one rogue mozzarella stick may put me over the edge. 

Up until this year, my already hypervigilant immune system would spar with the occasional respiratory bacteria or virus about once a year. It was enough to knock me out for a couple of weeks and almost always involved an inhaler, a breathing treatment, and a trip to urgent care. Then 2020 hit. Not only is there a deadly virus on the loose, but apparently my autoimmune disease took a left turn at What The Heck Is Going On Lane and now we're circling the roundabout until we figure out some answers.

Long story short, there's a cytokine storm a brewin' within me and I'm being advised to take cover. 

Does Milk Really Do The Body Good?

While I've hangrily longed for my DEFCON mozzarella stick, I've been reading everything I can get my hands on about dairy and inflammation. I've listened to multiple doctors talk about the hormones injected into cows while also tuning in to hear multiple dairy farmers talk about the lack of hormones in cows. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on television, but I do know from my biology classes that I don't want any additional hormones racing around inside of me that aren't supposed to be there. 

Hormones aside, I've scoured search engines to find reputable research on whether or not dairy causes the inflammation I'm supposed to be reducing. There's thousands of search engine results and hundreds of articles that argue both sides of the dairy debate: Does dairy really cause inflammation? To do my job well, I have to be a pretty darn good critical thinker, but this dairy situation has me perplexed. Who should I listen to: The doctors? The scientists? The industry that knows what's going on with their own commodity?

As I await a COVID-19 vaccine from my solitary isolation chamber, I find myself pondering if I should take the step to remove dairy completely from my life. I already have an allergy to beef, and I don't drink milk anymore, so asking the entire bovine crew to exit stage left from my menu wouldn't be too drastic. Except I've love cheese. In my world, cheddar does make everything better.

And if I remove it, am I succumbing to fact or fiction?

How Now Brown Cow?

Lest I had you worried I was dying from my aforementioned autoimmune disease, I'm not. Exhausted and achey all the time? Yes; Dying? Not today. But with everything going on in the world—in particular as it relates to inflammation and immunity—I do want to become as educated as I can.

I have access to and basic understanding of reports and studies about dairy and inflammation and even I'm overwhelmed sometimes. Imagine being a consumer who doesn't know the difference between rBGH and GHB. See how confusing it can be?   

I plan to emerge from Winter 2020-21 with less brain fog, fewer inflammatory storms, and more knowledge. Just like most consumers, I'm tasked with figuring out what's a fact, a finding, or a falsehood so I can make the best educated decisions for myself. 

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