Can Milk Be Bad For You?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Uncategorized

is milk bad for youGot Milk? Maybe Not

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney



You’ve probably seen the ads featuring your favorite celebrities sporting a white mustache and saying “Got milk?” Those ads all suggest that milk is essential for strong bones and a healthy body.

And you are probably aware of dietary recommendations from learned experts saying that you should be consuming at least 2-3 servings of milk every day – more if you’re over 65.

If so, you are probably really confused by the recent headlines saying things like: “Milk Consumption May Increase the Risk of Fractures” and “High Consumption of Milk May Increase Mortality Risk”.

Can milk be bad for you?

Before you pour all your milk down the drain and put Bessie the cow out to pasture, we should examine the study behind the headlines.

Does Milk Actually Increase Fracture Risk?

The study in question (Michaelsson et al, British Medical Journal, 2014; 349; g6015 doi: 10.1136/bmj.g6015) followed 61,433 Swedish women (aged 39-74) for an average of 20.2 years and 45,339 Swedish men (aged 45-79) for an average of 11.2 years. The women filled out two food frequency questionnaires, one at the beginning of the study and another approximately 10 years later. The men filled out one food frequency questionnaire at the beginning of the study.

Mortality and cause of death were obtained from the Swedish Cause of Death Registry. Bone fracture information was obtained from the Swedish National Patient Registry (In countries like Sweden big brother knows everything about you).

The results were pretty dramatic. When they compared women who were drinking three or more glasses of milk per day to women who drank less than one glass of milk a day, the highest level of milk consumption was associated with a:

• 93% increased risk of dying from all causes.
• 90% increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
• 44% increased risk of dying from cancer.
• 16% increased risk of having a bone fracture of any kind.
• 60% increased risk of having a hip fracture.

In contrast, consumption of fermented milk products (cheeses, soured milk and yoghurt) was associated with a decreased risk of mortality and bone fracture in women (a 10-15% decrease in risk for every serving consumed).

What Are The Dangers of Drinking Milk?

The authors speculated that that the increased mortality and fracture risk was due to galactose (a sugar formed from lactose, the primary naturally occurring sugar in unfermented milk). Their argument supporting this hypothesis was four fold:

1) In our intestines lactose is split into two sugars, glucose and galactose.

2) In animal models (primarily mice and rats) lifelong consumption of galactose is associated with shortened lifespan caused by, among other things, oxidative damage and chronic inflammation.

3) There is a rare genetic disease called galactosemia in humans that is caused by the lack of a crucial enzyme required to metabolize galactose. Patients with this disease die at a very early age without treatment. Even with dietary restriction of galactose they experience oxidative damage, inflammation and an increased risk for chronic diseases, including osteoporosis.

4) In a subset of patients enrolled in this study, high milk consumption was associated with an increase in blood markers of oxidative stress and inflammation.

While the results seem clear and the hypothesis seems plausible, we should perhaps look at the limitations of the study before making significant dietary changes.

Limitations of the Study

There are a number of significant limitations to this study.

what are the dangers of drinking milk1) It simply measures associations, not cause and effect.

2) The statistics were not entirely consistent. For example, while consumption of three or more glasses of milk (average = 3.4 glasses/day) was associated with 90% increased risk of mortality and cardiovascular mortality in women, there was only a 15% increase in risk associated with every glass of milk consumed. 15%/glass times 3.4 glasses/day = 51% – not 90%. A little bit of higher math tell us that these numbers don’t quite add up.

3) In men the effects were much smaller to nonexistent. In men high milk consumption was associated with a 10% increased risk in overall mortality and a 16% increased risk cardiovascular mortality, but milk consumption had essentially no effect on cancer mortality, fracture risk or hip fracture risk.

4) The galactose hypothesis is interesting, but far from convincing. Mice and rats don’t necessarily metabolize galactose in the same way as humans. Furthermore, in humans galactosemia is a very rare disease, and there is currently no evidence that dietary galactose poses a problem for people without the genetic defect that causes galactosemia.

5) Most importantly, there have been a number of previous studies examining the effects of milk consumption on both fracture risk and mortality, and those studies have been remarkably inconsistent. Some show increased risk and others show decreased risk. Meta-analyses of all previous clinical studies have shown no significant association between milk consumption and mortality (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93: 158-171, 2011) or hip fracture (Journal of Bone Mineral Research, 26: 833-839, 2011).

While some of the media articles were characterizing this study as ground-breaking and one that should lead to changes in dietary recommendations, the authors were far more cautious in their interpretation of the data. They said: “The results of this study should be interpreted cautiously given the observational design of our study. The findings merit independent replication before they can be used for dietary recommendations.” I agree.

Where Else Can You Find The Nutrients That Milk Provides?

In summary, there is no consistent evidence that milk consumption increases your risk of mortality and bone fractures. However, there is also no consistent evidence that milk consumption decreases your risk of mortality or fracture.

Since milk provides no proven benefit and may pose some risk many of you may be wondering where else you can get the nutrients that milk provides.

Milk is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, protein and riboflavin. When you carefully evaluate alternative food sources for these nutrients you will quickly discover that your choices are not straight forward. You need to be a knowledgeable consumer and careful label reader. For example:

vitamin-C• Green leafy vegetables are a high in calcium, but many of them also contain oxalate, which chelates the calcium and reduces its bioavailability. In short, green leafy vegetables are a healthy source for some of the calcium we need for healthy bones, but they should not be our primary source because of the relatively low calcium bioavailability.

• Cheeses are an excellent source of calcium, but many cheeses are high in fat and sodium.

• Yoghurts and other fermented milk products are an excellent source of calcium, but many of them are high in added sugars and artificial ingredients, which I do not recommend (see my article “Do Artificial Colors Cause Hyperactivity?” (

• Tofu and tempeh provide only 1/3 to ½ the calcium found in milk and provide no vitamin D.

• “Milk substitutes” made from soy, rice or other sources are often high in added sugars and may not provide the same nutrient profile as real milk. You have to read the labels carefully.

• Calcium supplements are an excellent source of calcium, but they have been controversial in recent years (see my article “Does Calcium Increase Heart Attack Risk?” ( My take on the controversy is that the latest studies have shown fairly convincingly that calcium supplements do not increase heart attack risk. However, if there is any risk, it is associated with calcium supplements that were not designed properly for incorporation of calcium into bone. My recommendation is to only choose calcium supplements that have been clinically proven to increase bone density.

• Well designed protein supplements can also be a good source of calcium and vitamin D, but many of them contain artificial sweeteners, which I do not recommend (see my articles “Do Diet Sodas Make You Fat?” (, “Does Sugar Cause Heart Disease?” (, and “Can Soft Drinks Cause Heart Disease?” (

The Bottom Line:

1) A recent study suggested that high milk consumption (> 3 glasses per day) in women might be associated with a:

• 93% increased risk of dying from all causes.
• 90% increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
• 44% increased risk of dying from cancer.
• 16% increased risk of having a bone fracture of any kind.
• 60% increased risk of having a hip fracture.

2) That study has a number of limitations and is not consistent with previous studies. Even the authors of the study stated: “The results [of this study] should be interpreted cautiously…”

3) Previous studies looking at the association of milk consumption and both fractures and mortality have been inconsistent. Meta-analyses of all previous studies show no significant association between milk consumption and either fractures or mortality.

4) In short, there is no consistent evidence to support the recent headlines suggesting that milk consumption might increase your risk of mortality and bone fractures, but there is also no consistent evidence that milk consumption decreases your risk of mortality or fractures.

5) Since milk provides no proven benefits and might pose some risk, you may be asking where else you can find the nutrients that milk provides. While there are a number of other dietary sources of the calcium needed for strong bones, each of them has potential limitations (for details, see the article above). You have to be a knowledgeable consumer and careful label reader if you are looking for non-milk sources of calcium.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

One of the Little known Causes of Headaches

Posted August 15, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Your Sleeping Position May Be Causing Your Headaches!

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney


Can sleeping position be one of the causes of headaches?  

A Sleeping position that has your head tilted puts pressure on your spinal cord and will cause headaches. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and the reasoning is so logical it’s easy to understand.

causes of headachesYour spinal cord runs from your brain, through each of your vertebrae, down your arms and legs. Nerves pass out of the vertebrae and go to every cell in your body, including each of your organs. When you are sleeping it is important to keep your head, neck, and spine in a horizontal plane so you aren’t straining the muscles that insert into your vertebrae.

The graphic above is a close-up of your skull and the cervical (neck) vertebrae. Your nerves are shown in yellow, and your artery is shown in red.  Consider what happens if you hold your head to one side for hours. You can notice that the nerves and artery will likely be press upon. Also, since your spinal cord comes down the inside of the vertebrae, it will also be impinged.

In 2004 the Archives of Internal Medicine published an article stating that 1 out of 13 people have morning headaches. It’s interesting to note that the article never mentions the spinal cord being impinged by the vertebrae. That’s a major oversight!

Muscles merge into tendons, and the tendons insert into the bone.  As you stayed in the tilted position for hours, the muscles actually shortened to the new length.  Then you try to turn over, but the short muscles are holding your cervical vertebrae tightly, and they can’t lengthen.

The weight of your head pulls on the vertebrae, putting even more pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.  Plus, the tight muscles are pulling on the bones, causing pain on the bone.

Your Pillow is Involved in Your Sleeping Position and the Causes of  Headaches

sleep left side

The analogy I always use is; just as pulling your hair hurts your scalp, the muscle pulling on the tendons hurts the bone where it inserts.  In this case it is your neck muscles putting a strain on your cervical bones.  For example, if you sleep on your left side and your pillow is too thick, your head will be tilted up toward the ceiling. This position tightens the muscles on the right side of your neck.

sleeping in car and desk

Dozing off while sitting in a car waiting for someone to arrive, or while working for hours at your desk can also horizontal line sleepcause headaches. The pictures above show a strain on the neck when you fall asleep without any support on your neck. Both of these people will wake up with a headache, and with stiffness in their neck.

The best sleeping position to prevent headaches is to have your pillow adjusted so your head, neck, and spine are in a horizontal line. Play with your pillows, putting two thin pillows into one case if necessary. If your pillow is too thick try to open up a corner and pull out some of the stuffing.


sleeping on stomachSleeping on Your Back & Stomach

If you sleep on your back and have your head on the mattress, your spine is straight. All you need is a little neck pillow for support, and a pillow under your knees.

Stomach sleeping is the worst sleeping position for not only headaches, but so many other aches and pains. It’s a tough habit to break, but it can be done. This sleeping position deserves its own blog, which I will do in the future.


Treating the Muscles That Cause Headaches

sleeping position causes of headachesAll of the muscles that originate or insert into your cervical vertebrae, and many that insert into your shoulder and upper back, need to be treated.  The treatments are all taught in Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living, in the neck and shoulder chapters.  Here is one treatment that will help you get relief.

Take either a tennis ball or the Perfect Ball (which really is Perfect because it has a solid center and soft outside) and press into your shoulder as shown.  You are treating a muscle called Levator Scapulae which pulls your cervical vertebrae out of alignment when it is tight.

Hold the press for about 30 seconds, release, and then press again.

Your pillow is a key to neck pain and headaches caused by your sleeping position.  It’s worth the time and energy to investigate how you sleep and correct your pillow.  I believe this blog will help you find the solution and will insure you have restful sleep each night.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly


About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.