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Potential Mechanisms of the Effects of Milk Products on Healthy Weight

A number of studies, including animal studies and human clinical trials, have investigated the mechanistic actions of milk and milk products on improved energy metabolism and adiposity.

Evidence supporting the beneficial effect of these mechanisms comes from a wide range of studies, including randomized controlled trials in humans, in vitro studies with human adipocytes, and animal models

While the potential mechanisms by which milk products may favourably influence body weight and composition have not been fully elucidated, some milk components have already been identified:

Dietary calcium

Dietary calcium may influence body composition through multiple mechanisms:1,2

  • Fatty acid absorption: Dietary calcium binds to fatty acids in the gastrointestinal tract to form insoluble soaps. Calcium binding to bile salts also weakens the formation of micelles. Consequently, fat excretion increases and fat absorption decreases.
  • Adipocyte lipid metabolism: A high calcium intake suppresses levels of calciotropic hormones (parathyroid hormone and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D) and intracellular calcium influx. Low levels of intracellular calcium in adipocytes inhibit lipogenesis and stimulate lipolysis, leading to reduced fat storage.
  • Fat oxidation: Dietary calcium may mediate whole-body fat oxidation and promote energy expenditure.
  • Postprandial fat metabolism: In a randomized controlled trial, it was found that high calcium intakes from dairy products, but not calcium supplements, decreased postprandial lipidemia (i.e., plasma lipid levels).
  • Appetite control: Evidence suggests that calcium and dairy intake may favour a decrease in caloric intake and facilitate appetite control.

Vitamin D

A randomized controlled trial demonstrated that, in addition to calcium intake, adequate vitamin D status may enhance fat oxidation and the thermic effect of meals during weight loss.3

Dairy protein and bioactive peptides

Milk is an excellent source of protein, which induces satiety by stimulating the secretion of gastrointestinal hormones and increasing diet-induced thermogenesis. Data suggests that whey is more satiating in the short term, while casein is more satiating in the long term.4

Additionally, bioactive peptides may have different roles in body weight regulation:1,4

  • Bioactive peptides inhibit the angiotensin-converting enzyme. This suppresses the production of angiotensin II hormone. In turn, a decrease occurs in fatty acid synthase expression and adipocyte lipogenesis.
  • Bioactive peptides also stimulate the secretion of insulin, which suppresses appetite. This may directly affect food intake and indirectly affect body weight.
  • Milk proteins contain a high proportion (21%–26%) of the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. These have a unique role in favouring protein synthesis and sparing lean body mass during weight loss.

Conjugated linoleic acid

Studies conducted in rodents have consistently demonstrated that conjugated linoleic acid can impact body fat mass. However, findings from human studies are inconclusive.1,5

Medium-chain fatty acids

Milk and milk products are a source of medium-chain fatty acids, such as capronic acid, caprylic acid and capric acid. Studies in animals indicate that increased medium-chain fatty acid intake decreases lipogenesis. Human trials have also demonstrated that diets high in medium-chain fatty acids reduce body fat.1


Lactose is a milk sugar with a low glycemic index that may help to reduce caloric intake and acute appetite.1,6

Milk, as a whole, also has a low glycemic index. Low glycemic index foods have been shown to increase satiety and reduce caloric intake through mechanisms involving changes in blood glucose concentration and insulin response.7

Keywords: healthy weight

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