Studies Confirm Dairy Does Not Cause Inflammation

Mother and daughter having breakfast.

 Yagi Studio / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Dairy foods and proteins from milk are often thought to cause inflammation in the body.
  • According to new research, dairy foods and milk proteins do not cause inflammation, and in some cases, even combat inflammation.
  • Following an anti-inflammatory diet that includes dairy, along with foods like seafood, nuts, seeds, and vegetables can offer body-wide benefits.

While the internet is full of suggestions to avoid dairy due to its inflammatory properties, medical research does not appear to support that claim. A new systematic review shows consuming dairy appears to have neutral to beneficial effects on inflammatory markers. 

For the September review in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers analyzed 27 trials that focused on dairy products’ effect on inflammatory markers. Dairy products included dairy food options like milk, yogurt, cheese, and proteins from milk including casein and whey.  

None of these studies suggest that either consuming dairy food or proteins from milk increase inflammation like previously believed. In fact, some of the studies report dairy intake actually results in a reduction in at least one biomarker of inflammation.

Chris Cifelli, PhD, vice president of nutrition research at the Dairy Council in Illinois and one of the study authors, tells Verywell that this is not the first time dairy has exhibited a neutral or positive effect on inflammation, and due to the consistency of the evidence, there is a "true association."

“I'm not quite sure when dairy became so demonized for its supposed effects on inflammation, but the current data just does not support this theoretical inflammatory effect,” Melissa Azzaro, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian in New Hampshire and author of A Balanced Approach To PCOS, tells Verywell. Azzaro was not involved with the study.

What This Means For You

If you are trying to combat chronic inflammation, it does not appear that there is a need to avoid dairy foods and proteins from milk like casein or whey.

Dairy for Inflammation 

This recent systemic review is the third published in the past three years indicating that dairy foods offer either no effect or a helpful effect on inflammation. 

What is Chronic Inflammation?

Chronic inflammation can be difficult to recognize. Factors like obesity, smoking cigarettes, and eating certain foods can cause your body to react as if something is abnormal or foreign, triggering an inflammatory response in your tissues and organs.

In 2017, a review of over 50 clinical trials found that dairy foods were associated with anti-inflammatory activity in subjects with metabolic disorders. Both low- and full-fat dairy products, as well as fermented dairy foods, displayed anti-inflammatory activity.

A 2019 review found similar results, reporting that consumption of milk or dairy products was not linked to inflammation in healthy subjects or those with metabolic abnormalities.

According to Cifelli, there is no reason to avoid dairy for inflammation concerns. 

He explains that since more than one in five people are not meeting their dairy intake recommendations, they are missing out on key nutrients. Dairy foods are known for their calcium content, a nutrient that is key for bone health and carrying out important functions like muscle contraction.  

“Of course, if you have a true dairy allergy, you shouldn't eat dairy-containing foods," Azzaro says. And if lactose is a problem for you, you can choose lactose-free products. “But for most people, reasonable servings of dairy have been found to be beneficial, and in my line of work, the evidence supports including full-fat dairy to support fertility in women.”

The benefits of consuming dairy foods and proteins from milk extend beyond the inflammatory factor. The nutrients found in dairy foods may support bone health and immune function. Consuming proteins from milk like whey, casein, and milk protein concentrate and isolate have been shown to aid in weight loss, improve muscle tone, and enhance workout recovery. In fact, when compared with plant proteins, proteins from milk are more complete and higher quality.

How To Manage Inflammation

If you struggle with inflammation or have been diagnosed with chronic inflammation by a healthcare provider, the good news is that there are some actions you can take to improve your condition. Cifelli considers both the Mediterranean and DASH diets as good options to follow for anti-inflammatory effects, with a healthy dose of dairy foods and proteins from milk. 

Maria Nicholson, RD, LDN, a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian, tells Verywell there are dietary and lifestyle choices people can make to possibly prevent chronic inflammation, including:

  • Choosing foods that fight against inflammation, like fruits, vegetables, and omega-3s
  • Limiting foods that promote chronic inflammation, such as processed foods, or those high in added sugar and saturated/trans fats
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol intake
  • Including more plant-based foods because they contain anti-inflammatory phytonutrients
  • Adding good bacteria with probiotic foods such as low-fat plain yogurt and kefir
  • Eating seafood two to three times per week
  • Managing stress to decrease levels of cortisol
  • Getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep a night

Additionally, data suggests that participating in 20 minutes of regular physical activity reduces the risk of chronic inflammation.

So, if you are a dairy-lover, just keep your eye on the big-picture: limit added sugars in your diet, manage stress, maintain a healthy weight, and incorporate other anti-inflammatory lifestyle choices into your days. And by all means, enjoy that glass of milk if you wish!

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nieman K, Anderson B, Cifelli C. The effects of dairy product and dairy protein intake on inflammation: A systematic review of the literature. J Am Coll Nutr. 2020 Sep 1;1-12. doi:10.1080/07315724.2020

  2. Bordoni A, Danes F, Dardevet D, Dupont D. et al. Dairy products and inflammation: A review of the clinical evidence. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Aug 13;57(12):2497-2525. doi:10.1080/10408398.2014.967385

  3. Ulven S, Holven K, Gil A, Dangel-Huerta O. Milk and dairy product consumption and inflammatory biomarkers: An updated systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Adv Nutr. 2019 May 1;10(suppl_2):S239-S250. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy072

  4. International Dairy Federation. IDF Factsheet: Dairy's role in supporting a healthy immune system.

  5. Saunders M, Luden N, DeWitt C, Gross M, Rios A. Protein supplementation during or following a marathon run influences post-exercise recovery. Nutrients. 2018 Mar 10;10(3):333. doi:10.3390/nu10030333

  6. Mathai J, Lio Y, Stein H. Values for digestible indispensable amino acid scores (DIAAS) for some dairy and plant proteins may better describe protein quality than values calculated using the concept for protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores (PDCAAS). Br J Nutr. 2017 Feb;117(4):490-499. doi:10.1017/S0007114517000125

  7. Dimitrov S, Hulteng E, Hong S. Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intracellular TNF production by acute exercise via β 2-adrenergic activation. Brain Behav Immun. 2017 Mar;61:60-68. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2016.12.017