Is Dairy Really Inflammatory?
Dairy is very controversial when it comes to inflammation. Studies conclude that it can both lower and raise inflammation in humans. Like I’ve always said, nutrition is very personal and there is no one-size-fits-all all approach. Today I’m covering 2 sides of the dairy coin: why it is and isn’t inflammatory. I’ll also touch on A1 vs. A2 milk.
Dairy can Lower Inflammation
Dairy has a number of beneficial properties that may help lower inflammation in some people. First, dairy has a low omega 6:3 ratio (2:1) which is helpful in lowering inflammation. We generally want to aim for a 3:1 ratio so dairy is actually below that threshold. Second, it contains several antioxidants including selenium, vitamins A and E, zinc, glutathione, and magnesium. These antioxidants sequester free radicals to prevent damage to our cells and tissues. Dairy also provides more calcium, phosphorus, protein, magnesium, potassium, and zinc per calorie than any other food found in our diet. Additionally, full-fat dairy is the leading source of vitamin K2, which is necessary for bone health and blood clotting. Research also backs up dairy’s anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies show an inverse relationship between dairy and cardiovascular disease. In fact, high-fat dairy can be protective against strokes and the saturated fat in milk has been shown to be protective against oxidative stress. Lastly, it can also be great for our microbiome. The combination of saturated fats plus micronutrients is beneficial for the bacteria in our gut.
Dairy can Raise Inflammation
Dairy can also be pro-inflammatory for some people. Cow’s milk, if it’s not organic, may be contaminated with pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics which can negatively affect your gut and trigger inflammation. Cow’s milk contains growth factors that may suppress antioxidants and increase cellular inflammation. Lastly, people who have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivities may react to casein, which can cause an inflammatory reaction.
What about A2 Milk?
There’s a lot of noise out there about A1 and A2 milk. A1 and A2 are protein variants within the casein molecule. Cow’s milk contains both A1 and A2 proteins. The difference between the 2 variants comes down to how the amino acids link together which affects how they are ultimately broken down and digested.
Most commercial, grain-fed cows are bred to produce more milk and have a higher amount of A1 proteins in their milk. A2 milk generally comes from goat, sheep, and older cow milk and/or cows that are grass-fed, which are usually found on smaller dairy farms. In one small study comparing A1 and A2 milk, it appears that A1 milk is harder to digest and causes more gastrointestinal symptoms than A2 milk.
How do you know if dairy is inflammatory for you?
If you think dairy might be an issue for you, try taking a dairy vacation for about 4 weeks and monitor your symptoms. If you feel better without it, then it may be an issue for you. You could also switch to A2 milk and see if that works and feels better. Additionally, many people tolerate sheep and goat milk better. Try those varieties of milk and/or cheese to see how that makes you feel.