Another look at Dairy – Should it be a part of your PCOS Diet?

Toward the end of last year, one of the lovely ladies in the Membership programme showed me some recent research on dairy and ovulation. This really made me question the recommend to cut dairy out of your PCOS diet.

I wondered if I had gotten it all wrong.

So, I looked into it extensively again. And I thought I would share my findings (particularly for those of you who are still on the fence about giving up dairy).

So, here we go:

Low fat dairy products and fertility

Another-look-at-dairy-fertilityThe research that was initially shown to me had to do with the impact of dairy on ovulation, specifically at fat content. Basically, it was found that women who regularly consumed a lot of low-fat dairy products were at an increased risk of anovulatory infertility (they basically had problems with ovulation). (1)

On the other hand, having high-fat dairy seemed to lower this risk.

So the question was, should we be having dairy (and high fat dairy at that).

My initial thought is that if you are going to have dairy, full fat would be the way to go. A lot of low fat products are full of sugar or sweeteners that will cause your insulin levels to spike.

Secondly, this research was done on 18 555 with fertility problems, but not necessarily PCOS.

So, that brings me round to the question of whether women with PCOS should have dairy.

The main problem with dairy is that contains a chemical called Insulin-Growth Factor 1 or IGF-1, which basically mimics insulin in the body. And that is what is problematic for women with PCOS.


Let’s have a look at IGF-1 in a bit more detail:

IGF-1 is a hormone that is present in all forms of milk, from human breast milk to goat’s milk. It makes sense. IGF-1 stimulates growth. One study found that mothers who had higher levels of IGF-1 in their milk also had babies with high weight gain.

Although IGF-1 is present in other forms of animal protein, it doesn’t seem to have as much impact as dairy does on our IGF-1 levels. (2)

What’s the deal with IGF-1 and PCOS?

Another-look-at-dairy-testosteroneWell, research has shown that women with PCOS and tend to have lower levels of insulin-like growth factor binding protein-1 (IGFBP-1). This is problematic because IGFBP-1 attaches itself to IGF-1 and makes it harmless. The less IGFBP-1 you have in your body, the more free IGF-1 you have. (3)

And the IGF-1 in PCOS causes your ovaries to release too much testosterone – something we really want to avoid.

Interestingly, one of the ways that Metformin works for women with PCOS is by helping to normalise the ratio between IGF-1 and IGFBP-1. (4)

But there’s more.

Not only do we have less IGFBP-1, but we also have a tendency to have high insulin levels. This causes the ovaries to be more sensitive to IGF-1. (5)

So, basically, IGF-1 is something we’re going to want to avoid.

Now, I know you’re probably asking yourself some questions. Let me see if I can answer them for you.

Is goat’s milk or lactose free milk okay?

No. Both goat’s milk and lactose free milk will still have IGF-1 so we want to avoid them.

What about butter?

Well, butter is an interesting one, really. I do have butter on a regular basis. And here’s why. The dairy content in butter is very low. It is predominantly fat. It is a great source of vitamins and minerals (especially fat soluble ones).  (6)
If you are going to eat butter, grass fed butter is your best bet. Kerrygold Pure Irish butter is grass fed and is readily available in most grocery stores.

Are eggs okay?

Yes! Eggs are not considered dairy and have a lot of great nutrients. (7)

What about my bones?

Another-look-at-dairy-calcium-and-bonesNow, I know that you’ve been told that you need dairy to keep your bones strong. Well, it’s just not true. There has been a lot of research on this and findings have shown that dairy does not strengthen bones.

Calcium is an important factor is bone growth and strength but there are a lot of dietary sources of calcium apart from milk.

Also, you have to have Vitamin D for Calcium to be absorbed by the body. But, up to 80% of women with PCOS are also deficient in Vitamin D.

So, I strongly suggest a Vitamin D supplement like this one to make sure you’re getting enough so that you can absorb your Calcium.

And lastly, exercise is the most effective way to increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis. (8)

So, ditch the dairy and get moving instead.

Let’s wrap this all up then.

We’ve said that although high fat dairy impacts on fertility less, all dairy should be avoided for women with PCOS. If you’re worried about Calcium and your bones, take a Vitamin D supplement and get moving.

I know that giving up dairy can be tough but once you do, you’ll hardly miss it.

Have you given up dairy and seen any improvements in your PCOS? Let me know and leave a comment below!

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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

62 Responses

62 Responses

  1. wow your article is like blessing for me. i have been wondering this question for weeks. i have been reading dairy products are not good for woman with pcos, but there are no explanation about which part is spiking the insulin. and your article did!! however, i also been wondering, can i still have cheese (processed cheese) and almond milk as a milk substitute?
    thank you at advance.

  2. I gave up meat and dairy two weeks ago (was already mostly sugar free) and I have been taking a photo of my face every morning. On Day 1 I was very red all over, my nose was swollen and I had acne around my mouth and chin. By Day 13, my skin was completely clear and the redness was gone except for on my cheeks. The whites of my eyes were whiter and brighter, my nose looked smaller, and the bags under my eyes were gone. On top of that I feel fantastic and have been sleeping better than I have in years. I used to have night sweats from my PCOS and these are gone too. I’ve been having coconut milk in my coffee and focusing on foods that combat inflammation like green veggies, green tea, strawberries, blueberries, root veggies and legumes. It’s worth the effort it takes to change your routine!

  3. I’m confused to how consumption of IGF-1 will correlate to higher insulin levels. From what I understand, IGF-1 is a protein consisting of 70 amino acids. When it comes in contact with your stomach acid, it is denatured so that it no longer has the same structure and become biologically useless. And then when it enters the duodenum, it is introduced to proteases which break that chain of proteins down, at which point the amino acid chains (1-3 max) are small enough to be carried across the lining of the intestine into the body. So how does IGF-1 make it into your blood stream to have any impact on insulin levels?

    For example: you probably know a type-1 diabetic. Have you heard of any way that they can take insulin orally and have it have any effect on them? No- they need to inject it so it bypasses the rigorous tests of our gastrointestinal track.

    I would love some clarification on this issue. Thanks!

  4. And cheese?? This is what I struggle the most.. to cut cheese . I only eat sometimes just a bite just to be happy .. but I’m still eating it .. if I eat cheese, the next day I have acnea.

    I’m not sure it makes my hirsutism worst tho.

  5. What about whole fat greek yogurt? I know it’s loaded with probiotics which I read can be helpful for PCOS.

  6. Yes! Thank you so much for putting this to rest. I gave up dairy over a year ago and along with diet have lost 47 lbs. I feel less bloated and have regular monthly cycles.

  7. I cut out dairy almost 2 weeks ago. I do still eat butter, but as you yourself said in your articles it barely counts. I think I read somewhere it’s less than 2% dairy. A few days after cutting dairy my uterus started feeling weird. Almost fluttery, like butterflies in my uterus. I was pretty uncomfortable. That went on for about 2-3 days and I’ve been cramping and have lower back pain ever since. I don’t know why. Is my body detoxing? I don’t think I’m pregnant, I’ve taken 3 tests, all negative.

  8. My daughter has pcos, I made some changes in our diet. I read about useful herbal teas, like marjoram, cinnamon, mint, tulsi… So we started drinking those while stopping coffee and milk. The immediate result for me was a rapid weight loss of 3 kilos in 2 weeks! Although I used to drink low fat milk. My daughter is still struggling with her weight. I’m worried about excluding milk, I didn’t feel almond milk was useful, since it’s just water mainly and some starch. Also tried organic milk but couldn’t find it fresh where I live, only longlife with preservatives I assume.

  9. My problem with dairy began when I suddenly became lactose intolerant. Any form of dairy will leave me in the bathroom the whole day. So I quit dairy to avoid that. I have since noticed that I am no longer as bloated as I used to be and My period although not regular yet is more stable it used to be.
    So I agree with this finding that dairy and PCOS don’t mix well.

    Thank you Tarryn

  10. I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2004, and in 14 years I got very little useful information from doctors about WHY my body didn’t work the same way other people’s did, so I had nothing to go on to figure out how to be successful getting healthy again. I sat in my doctor’s office a little over 2 months ago, and after having stepped on the scale, I sobbed at how much more weight I’d gained despite basically starving myself. At the rate I was gaining weight, I was afraid I’d die of a heart attack before my daughter graduated from high school. I came home that night and started researching PCOS diets and exercise and came across Tarryn’s site. I have learned more since that day than I have in 14 years from physicians. I now understand how my body produces insulin and what it does with it, which makes it so much easier to make choices.

    I love cheese. For years, you could open my fridge at any time and find 10-15 different kinds. I also love creamer in my coffee. Carbs and dairy were my best friends because they comforted me. It wasn’t until I realized that food shouldn’t be my “friend,” and I shouldn’t find comfort in eating, that I was able to step back and evaluate what I was willing to give up to feel good about me again. I haven’t had cheese in months, I switched to an almond milk “creamer”, and now avoid pastas/rice/breads, etc. I had struggled for 2 years to get the weight off, and now, I’ve lost 12 pounds in about 8 weeks (with very little change in my lifestyle). I’m never hungry, I don’t dream of food, I don’t plan my next meal while I’m eating the current one. What I thought would be deprivation (giving up dairy and crappy carbs) turned out to be liberating. And instead of counting calories, I now evaluate foods based on their glycemic index which is SO easy. I do occasionally have a treat, but instead of ice cream (which I love) I opt for Greek yogurt with blueberries. Yes, it’s still cheating, but it’s a much better cheat. I feel like I’m finally in control of my food, and food is no longer in control of me.

  11. Before taking metformin I would never drink milk or crave it. In fact I hated milk. However now I am increasingly craving milk products. I figured using organic high fat milk would be a good medium, but now I’m having second thoughts.

  12. I avoided dairy for a long time. Now I have osteoponia. I decided to have full fat organic dairy. It’s been a month and my face is clear and haven’t gain weight. Before I quit dairy I used to have low fat dairy products and I wonder if the low fat was what affected my skin.


  13. Thanks for the article. I could easily go dairy free but I love Homemade yogurt or hung curd in my salad. Is it bad?

    1. I wonder about higher fat plain yogurt, too. It’s the one dairy product I eat on a regular basis and it’s been keeping my gut healthy especially while I’m starting metformin.

  14. Hi I’m Chelsea I have such bad pcos! I also suffer marjor depression! I never feel like I’m a womem ( (hot, sexy,or attractive in anyway! My go has tried me on so very many anti depressants and none of them are helping at all with my pcos marjor depression! Can you please help me find an ant deppressant that is the best from pcos depression ?? Please I’m desperate for pcos help!

    1. NAC!!!! Get on it right away. It helps alongside PCOS. Take 2 tabs in the AM before food and 2 tabs before bed after dinner (at least an hour) look on google for NAC (red bottle) and each tab should be 500mg. No more then 2000mg. Good luck x

  15. Interesting… Everything I have read from diabetic books to control insulen levels for your diet suggest milk cheese or yogurt before bed. Apparently is stabilizes the crash many experience at night.

    Apparently soy milk is bad. What about almond or silk?

    1. This is my question too, what about Almond milk? From my understanding it is not dairy so it should not contain IGH-1 which makes it hard ESS to us and actually beneficial since it has way more vitamins than dairy milk.

  16. The worst part of PCOS for me is that the foods that I actually enjoy eating are the ones that are “bad” for us. I love milk, cheese, ice cream. I can’t imagine a fulfilling life without these things. I also subsist mainly on carbs and don’t like most meats or vegetables. The only way that I’ve been successful in losing weight is by starving myself (eating <1000 calories per day) but it doesn't last because I give in to my cravings and end up putting the weight back on.

    1. Some nutritionist are getting covered under medical insurance. I’m obese and trying to lose weight and think maybe I should skip meals but that won’t really help me. The weight is so upsetting because I used to be so slim. So I am making an appointment for a nutritionist to help and hold me accountable to my foods. I just need the extra help and meeting with someone about it will help me. Oh, I’m totally with you in that I love ice cream and cheese. It’s life! I hope you find what you need to make you feel great and healthy.

  17. I seemed to do ok with a little sheep’s milk cheese on occasion. If you add more fat to your diet with olive oil, coconut oil and grass-fed butter and you don’t need the full fat Dairy. A good replacement for soy milk is almond milk or coconut milk.

  18. Hi, thanks so much for sharing your experience and advice all!
    I have been trying to control pcos with diet for many years now whilst also attempting to go vegetarian recently. I really struggle to get enough protein and cheese was such a key element to my diet but I defo see an increase in acne when I eat more cheese so I’m trying to cut that too. Also, recently…someone suggested it might be peanuts as they are a legume….something which came a shock! Might be worth considering. I too believe small amounts of grass fed butter appears to be a healthy part of a diet.
    I have one question regarding yoghurt though. Does anyone know where we stand with that? I know its healthy to have some probiotics found in yoghurt but will it have the same negative impact as cheese and milk for us pcos sufferers?
    Peace xx

    1. There are so many better ways to get probiotics than with yogurt like fermented foods. Sauerkraut has a ton of probiotics. And I wouldn’t cut meat! Protein is essential in the fight against pcos but tons of foods have proteins like broccoli

  19. I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2011 and been struggling ever since! My endocrinologist just told me to eat “low carb” and prescribed metformin but it made me feel horrible! Dizzy and sick all the time. Since then I had MRT/LEAP food sensitivity blood test, did an elimination diet but dairy was still allowed. I never knew about IGf in dairy causing insulin increase until now! I would put organic milk in my coffee every day and ate cheese as a quick protein snack almost daily! I am going completely dairy free and gluten free now! I wasn’t eating much gluten anyway as I tried to avoid bread but would often eat pizza with my family. Today is only my second day dairy free but I’m not planning on going back! I’ve had so many tests done, seen numerous doctors, tried so many diets but never gave up dairy and gluten before! I’m happy to try something that might help and just get so frustrated being sick all the time. Hope this will help!

  20. No one has answered if this is only for overseas?
    I live in Australia. Its illegal for Australian farmers to feed the cows IGF. So is A2 milk ok?

      1. Becky and Andrea, cows are not fed IGF-1 as far as I understand. It is a substance that all mammals produce to stimulate growth of their babies. So, any kind of dairy product will have IGF-1. Hope that helps!

  21. Non GMO soy is good . It never goes into the estrogen receptor site unless it’s needed . You need to study that more. It’s not like a bad environmental estrogen that goes in without asking permission. I heard this in a health lecture by Barbara O’NEIL of Misty Mountain Heath Retreat

  22. I am so confused with soy and soy isoflavones. I am ttc for 4years tried clomid many times but did not work so when i was reserching sbout alternatives of clomid i came across soy isoflavons which is said to sct same like clomid. Is it good for our pcos?? Please help thanks in advance.

  23. I gave up dairy about 6 months ago. I did an elimination-style diet and eliminated dairy, egs/meat with hormones, soy and gluten (I already knew sugar was a problem so I was already refined-sugar free). I tried adding back dairy and my hormonal symptoms skyrocketed! It was more a mental thing for me, once I got past the first few days of craving. But i learned to order pizza without cheese and all my favorite toppings. I searched pinterest for dairy-free recipes and, instead of making the same meals without the cheese, I tried brand new recipes to keep me interested. I use non dairy cheese like daiya occasionally but I honestly don’t miss it! It helps that when I’m tempted I remind myself how sick and I felt the last time I ate it!

  24. I have been eating sheep’s milk cheese and goat milk cheese….. you say no goat’s milk….does that include sheep’s/goat milk cheese? or by some miracle is there less in the cheese?? I have been dairy free for 3 years now….and only recently found a cheese I like 🙁

  25. For you cheese lovers have you tried a product called daiya, they make chesses that are dairy, gluten and soy free, they also make pizzas, boxed dinners like a Kraft dinner style, I love daiya products, it feels like your having cheese still! Check it out!

    1. Hi. I tried that product too. But I read the nutritional info and got worried it would spike my blood sugar as it is mainly made of tapioca, which is very starchy and traditionally has a high GI. So not sure if it is a good replacement.

  26. I’ve gone mostly dairy free for a few months now and have seen a difference. I control my dairy at home but not when I’m out. I’m already gluten-free (highly allergic to it) so I find that’s enough for my friends/family/restaurants to work through! I don’t miss cheese as much when I replace it with an avocado or other healthier fats. I realized I was using cheese as a filler. Second, I realized other parts of my body still need the extra good things that come with yogurt. So I have a small cup of yogurt almost daily with granola or in a smoothie. Maybe something like that will work for ‘you’ as well…

  27. I gave up dairy 6 months ago and I am doing great. My Cashew Milk and Chocolate Cashew Milk have 50% more calcium than Dairy Milk and I take a Vitamin D supplement everyday. I am feeling healthy and strong and no longer have the huge spikes and drops in my insulin levels. It was a bit hard to give up cheese in the beginning but not so much of an issue now. To me, feeling healthy is more important than eating dairy products.

  28. Hi! How about cheese? I’ve given up dairy (milk yogurt, butter and cheese) for 2 months now, I have regular periods but I still have acne and my weight is increasing little by little even if I exercise and eat healthy.

    I love cheese!!! And for me it’s the hardest part in going Dairy free… which are the “safe” cheeses or the ones that have less of that IGF-1??


    1. Back before this great site I tried going low carb and kept cheese as a part of my diet. I would lose some weight but then it would start going back up again. Even on 15 carbs a day!! taught be about the problem with dairy and not only have I lost 42 pounds in less than 6 months I have lost 12.5 inches from my waist! I was never able to lose tummy fat before – even with lots of cardio and weight/resistance training! I say get rid of the cheese and see if you start dropping weight as you follow the plan on this site.

    2. I was a cheeseaddict, but when I stopped eating it I don’t even miss it anymore. Just try! It will cure acne for sure.

  29. I have changed to Soy milk. I really enjoy it. I also miss normal milk and cheese but the benefits outway that. My pain in my ovaries is nearly non existent. My facial hair has also slowed down. I am not trying to get pregnant (as i was lucky enough to have a beautiful baby girl in 2009) but to lose weight and reduce facial hair. Your emails have been a godsend. Thank you ☺

    1. Yes, definitely stay away from soy. It messes with ovulation and hormones. I believe there is an article here on her site that explains why.

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