Does Dairy Cause Inflammation?

  • Article
  • Video
  • March 25, 2021

I’m often asked if dairy foods cause inflammation. Actually, the opposite is true. Based on the body of science, dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese do not cause inflammation and can be a part of anti-inflammatory diets.

Why should you care about inflammation? Chronic, low-grade inflammation results from a continuously out-of-balance immune system, which contributes to the development of various metabolic disorders, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Evidence that dairy does not cause inflammation

A study published in Nutritional Epidemiologythat ranked foods based on their inflammatory potential indicated that dairy foods, fruits and vegetables – especially dark, leafy greens and deep-orange vegetables – tend to be anti-inflammatory. Not surprisingly, these foods are abundant in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended healthy eating patterns. This includes the Healthy U.S. Style eating pattern, the Healthy Mediterranean Style eating pattern and the Healthy Vegetarian eating pattern, all of which can be adapted based on cultural and personal preferences.

When it comes to dairy specifically, a systematic review in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, funded by National Dairy Council, evaluated 27 randomized control trials and found that dairy foods (i.e., milk, cheese and yogurt) and dairy proteins (i.e., whey, casein) have neutral to beneficial effects on inflammation.

Let’s look at the key findings of this systematic review:

  • Dairy foods have a neutral to beneficial impact on inflammation. Of 19 studies that evaluated dairy products, 10 reported no effect on inflammation while eight reported a reduction in at least one biomarker of inflammation.
  • Dairy proteins have a neutral/no impact on inflammation. Of the eight studies that investigated dairy protein intake on inflammation, all eight reported no effect of the intervention, meaning no impact from dairy proteins on inflammation biomarkers.

This is the third systematic review published in the past three years indicating that dairy foods have a neutral to beneficial effect on inflammation. Here’s what the other two found:

  • A systematic review of over 50 clinical trials published in 2017 showed that dairy foods were associated with anti-inflammatory activity in study participants with metabolic disorders such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Further, both low- and full-fat dairy products, as well as fermented dairy foods (e.g., yogurt and cheese), displayed anti-inflammatory activity.
  • A second systematic review of randomized clinical trials published in 2019 reported similar results. Consuming milk or dairy products was not linked to inflammation in healthy subjects or those with metabolic abnormalities. The authors of this review stated regarding dairy foods that “the majority of the studies documented a significant anti-inflammatory effect in both healthy and metabolically abnormal subjects.”

How to manage inflammation

There are simple ways to combat chronic inflammation. Lifestyle choices like not smoking, stress management, regular exercise, getting a good night’s sleep, maintaining a healthy weight and eating well can help. 

Dairy’s beneficial effects on inflammation

Dairy foods are part of the “eating well” lifestyle choices that can help manage inflammation. As noted in the science supporting dairy’s neutral to beneficial role in inflammation, dairy foods, especially fermented dairy, seem to provide an anti-inflammatory effect.

The management of chronic inflammation is of the utmost importance to help reduce chronic disease risk. This should be one of the many reasons to increase the amount of dairy, fruits and vegetables in your diet. Learn how to make every bite and sip count by staring simple with MyPlate and you can read more in this article from Very Well Health.