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Back to Roles on Certain Health Conditions

The Effect of Milk Products on Inflammation

Evidence from randomized controlled trials suggests that milk product consumption does not have an adverse effect on inflammation. In fact, milk products may reduce inflammation in the body by improving levels of inflammatory biomarkers.


  • Milk products do not appear to have adverse effects on inflammation in the body;
  • Evidence suggests that milk products may improve levels of certain inflammatory biomarkers.

Systemic inflammation is a recognized factor in the development of atherosclerosis. Increased levels of certain inflammatory biomarkers, including C-reactive protein, IL-6 and TNF-α, have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.1

In the past few years, several studies, including systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials, have investigated whether milk product consumption may have an effect on inflammation in the body. Some studies have shown that milk products may beneficially impact inflammatory processes.

The Evidence

A 2013 systematic review of eight randomized controlled nutritional intervention trials found that milk products do not have adverse effects on biomarkers of inflammation among overweight or obese adults.1

  • In one study, which looked at inflammation as a primary outcome, dairy consumption improved pro- and anti-inflammatory biomarker concentrations;
  • Among seven studies that looked at inflammation as a secondary outcome, three demonstrated improvements in key inflammatory biomarkers, namely C-reactive protein, IL-6 and TNF-α, after milk product consumption;
  • Four other studies did not find an association between milk products and inflammatory biomarkers;
  • The conclusion from this systematic review is that milk products have either a neutral or beneficial impact on inflammation.

In a cross-over trial, 37 adults with metabolic syndrome, who typically have a low dairy intake, were randomized to either 3 servings of low-fat dairy or a carbohydrate-based control. After two 6-week treatments, with a 4-week washout period, the authors observed that 3 daily servings of dairy products improved both systemic inflammation and liver function.2

A randomized cross-over trial of 19 men compared the influence of different high-fat meals (without dairy, with full-fat milk, or with high-fat dairy products).3

  • All 3 test meals resulted in comparable postprandial inflammation, with some showing either an increase, a decrease or no effect on certain inflammatory markers;
  • The results suggested that full-fat milk and high-fat dairy products such as cheese and butter do not impact or increase inflammatory response.

In a multicentre randomized cross-over study, the impact of dairy products on biomarkers of inflammation among 112 adults with low-grade inflammation was tested. During each 4-week treatment period, the participants received either 3 servings of dairy (including low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt and regular-fat cheese) or energy-matched foods as a control. From the study findings, the authors concluded that “short-term consumption of a combination of low- and high-fat dairy as part of a healthy diet has no adverse effects on inflammation.”4

Potential Mechanisms

The mechanisms by which milk products could potentially affect systemic inflammation are not well understood.

Vitamin D, present in fortified milk, has anti-inflammatory properties and may modulate the effect of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines.5

Calcium in milk may also suppress inflammatory stress and enhance the anti-inflammatory action of vitamin D.5,6

Milk also contains bioactive peptides such as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitory peptides. These inhibit the stimulation of the renin-angiotensin system, thereby suppressing inflammatory responses.5

Dairy fatty acids, such as conjugated linoleic acid, may also have anti-inflammatory actions via the modulation of cytokine gene expression and production.5


Milk and milk products, including high-fat dairy products, do not appear to have an adverse effect on inflammatory biomarkers. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that milk product consumption may actually be beneficial against systemic inflammation.

More research is needed to confirm these findings and assess whether different types of milk products may have different effects.

Mechanistic studies are also required to elucidate the mechanisms by which milk products may improve biomarkers of inflammation.

Keywords: inflammation , calcium , vitamin D , bioactive peptides

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