Is Milk Bad for Arthritis?

Milk offers several nutritional benefits, including being rich in potassium, vitamin D, calcium, protein, vitamin B12, vitamin A, zinc, and thiamine. While it's often included in a healthy diet, there are some who believe milk's cons outweigh its pros. When specifically looking at joint health and arthritis, there are some conflicting studies that need a closer look.

Pouring milk

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Milk: Pros and Cons

Pros

Milk is known to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lower blood pressure in adults. It is also known to improve bone health in children, adolescents, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Research has shown that a diet high in milk and dairy products reduces the risk of childhood obesity and improves body composition in adults.

Cons

Dairy products that are high in fat are known to raise the “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood. This can increase the risk of coronary heart disease. There are also concerns about growth hormones in milk. In a study, researchers found mice had hormonal changes. This was due to the consumption of the high concentrations of estrogen in milk. There is no evidence to show that hormones in dairy milk have a negative impact on humans.

Milk: Nutrition Facts

Milk is considered a whole food. It provides 18 out of 22 essential nutrients. Important nutrients include calcium, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B, zinc, and protein.

Milk and Arthritis

Since milk is known to be good for bone development, can it help the joints, too? According to a study, researchers found that there was a lower progression of osteoarthritis among women who consumed milk. Consuming milk was also found to be helpful for people with gout. It is suggested that if you do drink milk, keep it low-fat to avoid extra calories and fat as this could lead to other health issues. Depending on the type of arthritis, recommendations on drinking milk may vary.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory and autoimmune disease that affects the joints in the wrists, knees, and hands. The joints that are affected by rheumatoid arthritis become inflamed and cause damages to the joint tissue. This can create chronic pain in the body. RA can also impact other areas in the body such as the lungs, heart, and eyes.

Studies have shown that there is a link between RA and Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis or MAP. This is a bacteria that is found in half the cows in the United States. MAP bacteria can spread to humans through consuming the infected milk. Although this study found that the bacteria in milk could be linked to RA, another study showed that there is no correlation between meat and dairy intake and the risk of the development of RA in women.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. More common in older people, osteoarthritis happens when tissues in the joints start to break down over time. Depending on the severity of osteoarthritis, some individuals have a lot of pain and for others, it doesn’t affect their day-to-day activities.

There was a study conducted to test the independent association between joint space width and milk intake over time between men and women. In the study, 90% of the individuals drank low-fat or fat-free milk. It was found that that frequent milk intake may be associated with reduced osteoarthritis progress in women. For the men, there was no significant association between milk consumption and the decrease of the joint space width.

Gout

Gout is an inflammatory arthritis that affects one joint at a time. Most common in the big toe joint, some of the symptoms include pain, swelling, redness, and heat. Other areas affected are the ankle, knee, and smaller toe joints. Individuals who have gout can get flares that can last for a day or weeks. For some, there are long periods of time before another flare occurs. Gout patients are known to have too much uric acid in the body. Uric acid is a waste product that is eliminated through the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. If the uric acid is not eliminated properly it can accumulate in the blood and settle in the joints.

Research shows that yogurt and milk can help individuals with gout. Studies show that there were lower levels of uric acid in individuals who consumed low-fat yogurt once every other day. In addition, there were lower levels of uric acid in individuals who drank skim milk one or more times
a day versus no milk at all.

Another study showed that standard skim milk or lactose power enriched with milk fat extract and glycomacropeptide, a short protein that comes from a milk protein that is used in dairy products such as cheese, may reduce pain but not the frequency of gout attacks.

Other Types of Arthritis

There are other types of arthritis that impact both adults and children. Fibromyalgia causes pain and stiffness all over the body. Other symptoms include fatigue, migraines, and tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. Dairy can help individuals with fibromyalgia because of the vitamin D component. If there is lactose intolerance, consuming other milk products fortified with vitamin D is an option. These products include almond, coconut, and cashew milk.

A type of arthritis that impacts children is juvenile idiopathic arthritis. This occurs in children ages 16 or younger and affects one or more joints. Although this type of arthritis can be outgrown in children, it causes joint stiffness, inflammation, and can affect bone development in growing children. Researchers surveyed parents of patients who have juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Improved pain or joint swelling was found in patients who had a gluten-free, anti-inflammatory, and lactose-free diet.

Does Milk Hydrate You?

Milk is rich in water, vitamins, and minerals, and has been shown to help people maintain proper hydration, especially after exercise. A few studies have shown that low-fat milk helped people stay hydrated after a workout, compared to sports drinks or plain water.

The Elimination Diet to Determine Milk Sensitivity

The elimination diet is a plan that helps someone figure out if there is a food sensitivity. On the plan, there is an elimination phase when a specific food or group of food is removed from the diet for a period of time. Then, there is the challenge phase where these foods are reintroduced. This is the phase where it is learned which foods are causing the allergic symptoms. The portion of the elimination diet where you omit dairy and gluten is the “simple (modified) elimination diet.” Also considered the lowest intensity.

If there is a dairy sensitivity or lactose intolerance, for example, as you reintroduce the food a lactase enzyme can be taken and you can enjoy dairy on occasion. It is important to look at labels for milk ingredients in other foods. When eliminating milk and dairy, animal proteins such as lamb, turkey, beef, and chicken are allowed. Other calcium-enriched foods include chickpeas, almonds, collard greens, kale, and non-dairy milk such as soy, hemp, rice, and cashew milk.

Milk Substitutes Recommended for Someone With Arthritis

There are calcium-enriched foods other than milk. These items include chickpeas, almonds, collard greens, kale, and non-dairy milk such as soy, almond, hemp, rice, and cashew milk just to name a few. It is important
to consume a balanced diet with the essential vitamins and nutrients that will help your overall health.

Side Effects and Risks

Although dairy has a lot of vitamins and nutrients, there are some studies that show that a high intake of dairy such as low-fat milk and cheese may increase prostate cancer and breast cancer risk. Milk can also cause inflammation, acne, and bone fractures.

Avoid High-Fat Dairy

Studies show that there are health risks that come with eating high-fat dairy. Studies also show that eating high-fat dairy, like butter, may increase your risk of dementia and inflammation. In another study, research associated a worse breast cancer survival rate with higher-fat dairy sources.

A Word From Verywell

Eating a well-balanced diet with the proper vitamins and nutrients is essential for your overall health. Before adding or eliminating anything from your diet, it is important to contact your health care professional.

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