Is Cow’s Milk Bad for You? Here's What Science Has to Say

Humans have been drinking cow's milk for millennia, but is it really good for everyone? While it used to be an evolutionary advantage back in the day when food shortage was common for most people, at present, milk consumption is optional due to a wide range of milk alternatives.

Could this food staple be dangerous to some people? In this article, we present to you the health benefits and dangers of drinking cow's milk, and it's up to you to decide if drinking cow's milk is right for you.

Before we start, however, let us mention that milk contains several essential nutrients. For a more concrete picture, let us sum up the nutrients in 1 glass of whole milk (250 ml):

  • 28(276 mcg) of your daily dose of calcium
  • 24% (205 mcg) of phosphorus
  • 15% (112 mcg) of vitamin A
  • 10% (322 mcg) of potassium
  • 18% (1,10 mcg) of vitamin B-12
  • 11% (0,9 mcg) of zinc
  • 14% (6-7 g) protein
  • 3% (2,4 g) of fats
  • 26% (13 g) of sugar

Milk has several other micronutrients and vitamins but in much lesser amounts. Without further ado, let’s see who can benefit from milk, and who’d better replace it with a plant alternative.

Who Needs Milk in Their Diet? The Health Benefits of Drinking Milk

1. People Who Are Trying to Lose Weight

Milk can help with weight management and appetite control.
  • A 2013 study showed that drinking dairy helped participants feel fuller and reduced the amount of foods rich in fat they consumed overall.
cow's milk health facts weight loss

2. People at Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Drinking milk may be a good preventative measure against type 2 diabetes.

  • In numerous studies, the whey protein contained in milk was shown to be an effective preventative method of type 2 diabetes in adults. Scientists believe that this may be because these proteins help balance out blood sugar levels.
cow's milk health facts type 2 diabetes

3. Infants and Children

Children need milk for healthy bone development.

  • Drinking milk increases children's bone density and weight. This lowers their risk of getting fractures.
  • In a 2009 study, pregnant women who ate a lot of dairy and foods rich in calcium in their 1st and 2nd trimester gave birth to babies with more bone mass and faster bone growth.
  • More dairy in preteen girls’ diet was more effective than calcium supplements in a large study measuring bone health.
cow's milk health facts growth

4. Those at Risk of Heart Disease

Milk consumption may protect your heart and blood vessels. This is how:

  • It helps prevent heart disease and stroke. The fats contained in milk may increase the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), often referred to as the “good” cholesterol.
  • It can balance blood pressure because milk is an abundant source of potassium.
cow's milk health facts heart disease
  • Grass-fed pastured cow's milk promotes blood vessel health. This type of milk is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, both of which prevent blood clots and lower the risk of stroke.

5. Depression Sufferers

The cocktail of calcium and vitamin D contained in milk may prevent and help manage depression.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression in adults. A balanced amount of vitamin D in your body promotes the production of serotonin. This hormone is associated with a positive mood, good appetite, and healthy sleep.
cow's milk health facts depression

6. Adults Prone to Tooth Decay

Drinking milk may prevent cavities in adults.

  • A Danish study showed that increasing the amount of dairy and vitamin D supplementation in older adults’ diets reduced the amount of dental plaque they developed.

Dental plaque, in turn, often causes inflammation in the gums and can cause cavities if not treated.

cow's milk health facts teeth

Who Should Avoid Milk? The Dangers of Drinking Cow's Milk

1. The Elderly and Adult Women

In specific cases, drinking a lot of milk may actually decrease bone density and cause osteoporosis.
  • Research has found that adult women who drank a lot of milk were more prone to bone fractures, maybe due to lactose and galactose contained in milk.
  • A different study concluded that osteoporosis and a higher incidence of bone fractures in elderly adults may be because they consumed a lot of dairy, animal protein, and calcium.

The picture below illustrates a healthy bone (in the blue circle) and a porous one, affected by osteoporosis (in the red circle).

cow's milk health facts osteoporosis

2. Teens and Adults with Acne

Milk may trigger or worsen acne symptoms.
  • A study found that teenagers with acne drank a lot of low-fat or skim milk. Dairy may cause adult acne as well. Although the reason is unknown, scientists believe it may be due to the carbohydrates and whey proteins contained in milk.
cow's milk health facts acne

3. Kids and Adults Suffering from Allergies

Milk may be the most common food allergen in the world. Over 5% of children are allergic to cow’s milk, though some children may grow out of the allergy.

Sadly, it is possible for adults to develop a milk allergy as well.

cow's milk health facts allergy

The symptoms of a milk allergy are the following: 

  • skin reactions
  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • blood in stool

4. Eczema and Rosacea Sufferers

Eczema can be worsened or triggered by milk and dairy.
Dairy products and milk, in particular, may also cause rosacea in adults. If you find that you experience a flare-up of your skin condition when you drink milk, better exclude it from your diet.
cow's milk health facts

5. Lactose Intolerance and Sensitivity

It is estimated that about 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant to some degree, as estimated in a 2015 review article. Although most people with lactose intolerance can eat dairy in small amounts with no ill effect, bigger amounts of milk and dairy may cause digestive issues, such as:

  • bloating
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • constipation.
cow's milk health facts lactose intolerance and sensitivity
A sensitivity to casein, one of the proteins found in milk, is another story. It is different from an allergy or lactose intolerance. It triggers inflammation in any part of the body, which exhibits itself in the form of the following symptoms
  • migraines
  • sinus congestion
  • acne flares or any other rash on the skin.

6. People Suffering from Cold Symptoms

Australian researchers suggested that consuming milk may worsen cold symptoms. In particular, it can make you phlegm thicker, which can cause further discomfort and irritation to an already-sensitive throat and nose.
It is a myth, however, that milk makes you produce more phlegm when you’re sick, it just feels that way because it is thicker.
cow's milk health facts cold

7. People at Risk of Specific Cancers

Research suggests that milk consumption can be linked to prostate, breast and ovarian cancers. 

  • The risk of prostate cancer may increase with excess calcium consumption.
  • The sugars contained in milk may heighten the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Cows given growth hormones that produced milk may increase the incidence of cancers of the reproductive organs and breast cancer among the consumers.
cow's milk health facts cancer
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