Study Debunks Claim That This Popular Food Causes Inflammation
Dairy products are often classified as flammable foods. However, new research suggests that the opposite may be the case.
According to a study recently published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, consuming dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and milk proteins (whey) have neutral to positive effects on inflammation. The systematic review, funded by the National Dairy Council, evaluated the results of 27 randomized controlled studies examining the effects of dairy products and milk proteins on inflammation in the body. (See Also: 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks Of All Time.)
What exactly did this study examine?
Of the 19 studies that analyzed the effects of dairy products on the body, 10 reported no effects on inflammation and eight reported a reduction in at least one biomarker of inflammation. The eight studies that exclusively looked at the relationship between milk protein consumption and inflammation all reported no such association.
Still, dairy products are often linked to inflammation, mainly due to the saturated fat and lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in milk) found in these foods. In fact, 65% of the human population has a decreased ability to digest lactose after infancy.
Have other studies found similar results?
One of the study's authors, Chris Cifelli, Ph.D., VP of Nutritional Research at the National Dairy Council, told Eat This, Not That! that this new study is the third systematic review published in the past three years showing that dairy products have neutral to positive effects on inflammation.
In 2017, a systematic review of 50 clinical trials found that dairy products were associated with anti-inflammatory activity in participants with metabolic disorders. The dairy products analyzed included low-fat and full-fat varieties, as well as fermented varieties such as yogurt and kefir.
Another systematic review published in 2019 evaluating randomized clinical trials also reported similar results. In fact, the authors of this particular review stated, "The majority of studies documented significant anti-inflammatory effects in both healthy and metabolically abnormal subjects."
How can dairy products have positive effects on existing inflammation in the body?
As Cifelli points out, milk contains nine essential nutrients, including vitamin D, calcium and potassium, all of which help maintain bone health. However, the 2015 Advisory Committee on Dietary Guidelines found that Americans frequently fail to adhere to recommended dietary supplements for these three nutrients. In addition, consuming dairy products has been linked to a lower risk of developing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, which are believed to be caused in part by chronic inflammation.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet is key to reducing low-severity chronic inflammation in the body and ultimately reducing the risk of developing chronic disease. "It is believed that one of the main causes of inflammatory diseases is intestinal leakage," says Cifelli. "Dairy products can be a beneficial addition to an anti-inflammatory diet."
Yogurt is especially believed to promote good gut health. A clinical study published in 2017 showed that consuming about 1.5 servings of low-fat yogurt per day was linked to a reduction in chronic inflammation and an improvement in bowel integrity.
Of course, if someone is lactose intolerant, it is highly recommended to stay away from dairy products. "Lactose intolerance is a serious condition that affects different people to different degrees," says Cifelli. "For example, some can tolerate a small amount of lactose and some cannot."
Fortunately, there are lactose-free dairy products like milk, cheese, and even ice cream that people with this dietary restriction can safely eat and still get the nutrients found in regular milk. (See Also: 12 Lactose-Free Yogurts You'll Love - Especially If You're Lactose Intolerant)
Which foods are known to cause inflammation?
Eating a diet that consists mostly of plant-based foods is key to fighting off inflammation. On the flip side, processed foods such as cured meats and packaged snacks with high levels of added sugars and refined grains can contribute to low-severity chronic inflammation if consumed regularly and over time.
"Processed foods, on the other hand, with their high sugar content, omega-6s, excess sodium, and junkie additives, can fuel the inflammation," Sydney Greene, MS, RD, told ETNT in an interview about how a plant-based diet can get you protect against disease.
"On the flip side, foods like dairy products, fruits, and vegetables - especially dark leafy greens, and deep orange vegetables - are usually anti-inflammatory," Cifelli adds.
For more information, see Top Best Milk Brands To Buy According To Nutritionists.
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