Is it true that women who drink milk have an increased risk of death? Our diet doctor has the answer
Q: I recently saw an article saying that women who drank milk had an increased risk of death. Is that true!? I thought milk was good for your bones!
A: You are correct, there was a study recently published which showed an association between drinking milk and increased risk of mortality. If you take the study’s findings at face value, you would think that for every daily glass of milk that you drink, your risk of premature death increases by 15 percent. That sounds crazy, right? Well, don't take this study at face value.
The researchers link the danger of drinking milk to the potential metabolic damage of consuming the sugar galactose. (We mainly get galactose in our diets from dairy products.) In animal studies, galactose can cause metabolic problems along with accelerating the aging process. To illustrate the dangers, researchers cited a study in mice in which galactose was injected under the skin. The amount used was then expanded to a dose relevant to humans. However, that's a lot of extrapolating information. Wouldn’t you agree?
Remeber: Nutrition is big news and often highlighted with sensational headlines (i.e. “Eating eggs is as bad as smoking cigarettes!"). But many times, studies that make headlines have design flaws that bring into question the validity of their findings. When it comes to milk, the larger body of research—and clinical trials (which have the authority to makes cause and effect assertions)—an increased risk of mortality for every glass you drink is simply not supported.
In this study yogurt, cheese, and fermented milk were seen as protective against early death. But since we are not going to put much weight on the negative findings of the study, it isn’t wise to embrace the positive ones. Fermented dairy products, like kefir though, are good to have in your diet (I drink kefir every morning!). They offer additional beneficial bacteria for your digestive system. If you have lactose intolerance then kefir is a great option as it is near lactose free. (Check out Yogurt 101 for more information on this non-dairy alternative.)
The bottom line: Drink fermented or unfermented milk, eat cheese, and enjoy yogurt. Milk contains 18 essential nutrients. It is a nutritionally powerhouse, not a tool of the grimm reaper. The most recent Dietary Guidelines—which did a good job of pulling together all the available research on milk consumption and health—recommend three servings of low-fat dairy each day.