What eating too much dairy does to your body
Dairy is important for the body’s overall health, but could you be eating too much dairy? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends women consume three cups of dairy per day. This is because dairy products contain plenty of good-for-you nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. “Calorie for calorie, whole milk is quite healthy,” nutrition researcher Kris Gunnars explained in an article for Healthline. “It offers a little bit of almost everything your body needs.”
Despite the benefits, though, it has been greatly debated whether humans should or should not consume dairy products. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t black and white. “Dairy isn’t easily categorized as healthy or unhealthy because its effects may vary greatly between individuals,” wrote Gunnars. “If you tolerate dairy products and enjoy them, you should feel comfortable eating dairy.”
Even if you are a person who can tolerate dairy without any issues, there is still such a thing as too much dairy. According to science, this is what happens to your body when you start consuming too many dairy products.
The "right" amount of dairy varies from person to person
The right amount of dairy is three cups, right? That is, after all, what the USDA advises. Yet this answer isn’t so cut and dry. If you are lactose intolerant, you may find three cups to be too much. It all depends on how much lactase — the enzyme that breaks down lactose — your body produces, Yuri A. Saito-Loftus, gastroenterologist and assistant professor of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Mayo Clinic, told WebMD. Saito-Loftus noted, “That does vary a little bit from individual to individual. We don’t know 100% what controls that. Presumably, it’s genetically determined.”
For most people, determining an ideal amount of dairy products calls for trial and error. “Listen to your body and your symptoms,” Dee Sandquist, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, advised when speaking to the publication.
It’s also possible that three cups — even for those who can handle lots of dairy without consequence — is too much dairy. Cleveland Clinic researcher Gail Cresci recommends “no more than one glass a day” in connection with “a mixed diet rich in calcium.”
You may experience gas and bloating if you eat too much dairy
Consuming too much dairy can lead to an unpleasant experience for you — and the ones around you. “Even though dairy is one of the healthiest foods you can eat, it can definitely cause gas and bloating for some people,” Karen Ansel, registered dietitian nutritionist, explained to Self. In most cases, this gas and bloating stems for lactose intolerance, which affects 65 percent of the world’s population.
Registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey said many people can handle smaller servings — two to four ounces at a time — without side effects. You may also find that yogurt and hard cheeses are easier on your stomach.
Although it’s not advised to eat more dairy than is comfortable, cutting out dairy entirely is not always best. “In fact, totally scrapping dairy from your diet can make lactose intolerance worse because your body produces digestive enzymes to break down the foods that they are used to digesting on a regular basis,” Ansel revealed. When you stop consuming dairy products, your body will produce less lactase — which will make the next time you inevitably have ice cream or a glass of milk much harder on your body than before.
Eating too much dairy could lead to stomach pains
In some people, gas and bloating can be accompanied by another uncomfortable symptom: stomach pains. If you find yourself clutching your belly 30 minutes to a couple hours after eating too much dairy, lactose intolerance is likely the culprit. While you may be fine with one glass of milk, that second glass may have put you over your limit.
All hope is not lost, though. Researchers have found that you may be able to train your body to handle more dairy. “I recommend starting with half a cup of milk with a meal, and if this is tolerated, after a few days, slowly increasing the amount so you’re sipping 2-3 cups a day,” Dennis Savaiano, dean of the Department of Nutrition Science at Purdue University, advised when speaking to Shape. “Or try drinking lactose-free milk and/or take Lactaid tablets before eating dairy; both contain lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose.”
Inflammation increases when you eat too much dairy
You may not consume too many glasses of milk, but what about cheese? Although cheese still has some of the benefits of other dairy products, consuming too much of it is hard on the body. The saturated fat in cheese prohibits the absorption of necessary fatty acids, nutritional therapist Terry Fairclough told Yahoo! Lifestyle. “Essential fats have many essential jobs,” he highlighted. “They are also anti inflammatory. So eating too much cheese may increase inflammation throughout the body. Making existing inflammatory conditions such as arthritis worse.”
Cheese isn’t the sole problem, though. Dairy products as a whole “cause disruption and irritation to the cells of the gut,” Danielle O’Connor, a naturopathic doctor based in Ontario, Canada, explained to Reader’s Digest. When the cells become irritated, allergens can enter the bloodstream and cause an inflammatory response. If you have an inflammatory disease, you may find that even a small amount of dairy is too much.
Your cholesterol and blood pressure rises when you eat too much dairy
Just as eating too much cheese increases inflammation, the saturated fat in cheese also increases cholesterol. “If you are one of those people who is susceptible to the affects of cholesterol,” nutritional therapist Terry Fairclough explained in an interview with Yahoo! Lifestyle, cheese is going to make matters worse and may, in fact, put you at risk for a more serious medical condition, such as a stroke.
In addition to raising your cholesterol and increasing inflammation, the dairy product we all love can affect our health in another way. The expert continued, “Eating too much cheese with its high saturated fat and salt content can contribute to high blood pressure.”
High blood pressure, or hypertension, has been dubbed a “silent killer” because most people don’t experience any symptoms. Although you may not feel any different with hypertension, it is dangerous to leave untreated as it can lead to strokes, heart attacks, blood clots, and other life-threatening complications. Cutting back on cheese may just help to reduce your risks.
Watch out for breakouts after eating too much dairy
After consuming too much dairy, you may notice pimples cropping up on your face. As the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reported, several studies have found a possible correlation between dairy products and acne.
“While more clinical research is needed to determine dairy’s impact on acne severity, I advise patients to talk with their dermatologist if they believe certain dairy products aggravate their acne,” Whitney P. Bowe, board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate College of Medicine in Brooklyn, N.Y., told the AAD. “Given the benefits of calcium and vitamin D — especially in a growing adolescent population — patients who choose to limit or avoid dairy products should supplement their diet with appropriate levels of calcium and vitamin D.”
Even if you think the addition of more dairy to your diet is entirely to blame for your breakout, Bowe recommends keeping a food diary and following up with your dermatologist before jumping to any conclusions.
Eating a lot of dairy won't prevent heart disease
“Milk and other dairy products are the top sources of artery-clogging saturated fat in the American diet,” wrote the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “Cheese is especially dangerous,” the committee continued. “Typical cheeses are 70 percent fat.” Consuming whole milk and high-fat dairy products like cheese and butter was indeed found to increase the risk of ischemic heart disease, one 2007 study revealed.
However, a later study has shown that full-fat dairy products are not exactly at fault for causing heart disease. That said, dairy wasn’t found to decrease one’s risk either. Instead, replacing dairy fat with vegetable fat reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 10 percent and replacing dairy fat with polyunsaturated fat reduced the risk by some 24 percent.
The takeaway? “These results suggest that dairy fat is not an optimal type of fat in our diets,” Frank Hu, senior author of the study, revealed. “Although one can enjoy moderate amounts of full-fat dairy such as cheese, a healthy diet pattern tends to be plant-based and low in saturated fat.” Less is more when it comes to dairy, it seems.
Your risk of cancer may increase when you eat too much dairy
Consuming three glasses of milk a day — the recommended daily intake for young girls and women — may not lead to heart disease, but too much dairy still seems to negatively impact one’s health. In 2014, researchers conducted a comprehensive study of more than 60,000 women and discovered that those who drank three glasses of milk or more had a 44 percent increased risk of cancer compared to women who consumed less than one glass daily.
Mary Schooling, a professor at the City University of New York School of Public Health, said people shouldn’t necessarily change their diet based on the study because more research is needed before an association — not just a link — is discovered. Nevertheless, Karl Michaelsson, the study’s lead author and a professor in the department of surgical sciences at Uppsala University in Sweden, revealed to CBS News, “The study findings have, for myself, been strong enough to cut down on my milk consumption.”
Breast cancer survival rates plummet when you eat too much dairy
In quite the one-two punch, consuming too much dairy has not just been linked to a higher risk of cancer, but also a lower breast cancer survival rate. A 2013 study revealed that an “intake of high-fat dairy, but not low-fat dairy, was related to a higher risk of mortality after breast cancer diagnosis.”
As BreastCancer.org summarized, the women in the study who reported eating one or more servings of high-fat dairy products each day had a 49 percent higher risk of mortality after being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who either ate fewer servings of high-fat dairy or those who ate exclusively low-fat dairy products. According to the study, nonfat dairy products or plant-based milks may be “a reasonable approach for limiting risk of adverse outcomes” when it comes to breast cancer. BreastCancer.org further recommends exercising, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol, among other things.
Liver functions slow down when you ingest too much dairy
The saturated fat in high-fat dairy products like cheese “slow liver function, which will subsequently [increase] toxicity,” nutritional therapist Terry Fairclough told Yahoo! Lifestyle. This doesn’t mean you should cut out cheese from your diet. Melissa Kuman, a registered associate nutritionist and founder of The Delicious Nutritionist, told the publication: “Portion control, as with any food, is crucial in making sure your body isn’t over loaded with fat, salt or sugars it can’t adequately process.”
Cheese, in moderation, can be fine, according to the expert. It’s consuming too much cheese — and really, dairy — that’s the issue. “We are recommended to have a piece of cheese about the size of two thumbs together [about one ounce] as a portion.” She continued, saying, “In a day we should aim for two to three portions of dairy a day.” Any more than that, though, and you risk consuming too much dairy and the side effects that come with it.
Your bones could become weaker if you eat too much dairy
Milk is the best thing for strong bones, right? That’s what you’ve likely been told for a long time. However, that may the furthest thing from the truth. According to one Swedish study conducted in 2014 and published by The BMJ, drinking too much milk increased — not decreased — a woman’s risk of broken bones. The risk of bone fractures increased 16 percent in women who consumed three or more glasses of milk each day while the risk of a broken hip increased a whopping 60 percent.
It is true that calcium strengthens bones, but dairy products don’t have to — and shouldn’t — be your only source of calcium. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s The Nutrition Source, dark leafy green vegetables and legumes are important sources of calcium. There’s also more to strengthening bones than just consuming this mineral. “Consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D and performing regular, weight-bearing exercise are also important to build maximum bone density and strength,” the publication revealed. Although milk may be an easy way to get both calcium and vitamin D, consuming too much milk appears to do the bones more harm than good.
There's an increase in mortality for those who eat too much dairy
Although it may sound hard to believe, excessive milk consumption has even been linked to death. According to one comprehensive study, both men and women who drank more than three glasses of milk each day had an overall higher risk of death. And by a lot. Compared to the women who had less than one glass of milk each day, women who reported consuming more than three glasses of milk daily nearly doubled their risk of death.
Switch out your three glasses of milk for three servings of yogurt, though, and those risks do not remain. Science Daily reported that a 2018 study confirmed that “with the exception of milk, dairy products have been found to protect against both total mortality and mortality from cerebrovascular causes.”
Still, all milk need not be excluded. When speaking to the publication, Maciej Banach, author of the study and a professor at the Medical University in Lodz, Poland, advised switching to fat-free or low-fat milk.
Eating too much dairy can trigger a migraine
Could your dairy products be to blame for your headaches? According to one study, a “significant relationship” between dairy products and headaches were found. And it’s not just milk.
Foods with tyramine have also been found to trigger migraines, David Buchholz, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University and author of Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain, explained to NPR. Unfortunately for cheese lovers, aged cheeses contain the most of this headache-activating chemical. “At the young end, there are cheeses such as cottage or American cheese or cream cheese, which don’t have much tyramine,” Buchholz explained. “As opposed to the other end of the spectrum, there’s blue cheese or cheddar, which are loaded with tyramine.”
Simply eliminating the cheese from your charcuterie board may not be enough to cure your migraines, though. “Suppose there are 100 things that trigger headaches. And somebody tells you to avoid two or three of them, but you eat the other 97. You’re still going to get a headache,” Buchholz’s patient Donna Sees explained to the publication. Still, reducing your consumption of tyramine-rich cheeses could be a great place to start.
Eating too much dairy could increase your risk for Parkinson's disease
Consuming three servings or more of low-fat dairy may lead to a greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, one 2017 study revealed (via the American Academy of Neurology). According to the data, those who consumed too much low-fat dairy were at a 34 percent greater risk. Drinking more than one serving of skim or low-fat milk per day was also associated with a higher risk — 39 percent — of developing Parkinson’s disease when compared to drinking less than one serving per week. Additionally, both sherbet and frozen yogurt were found to increase a person’s risk.
“Our study is the largest analysis of dairy and Parkinson’s to date,” Katherine C. Hughes of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts told the American Academy of Neurology. “The results provide evidence of a modest increased risk of Parkinson’s with greater consumption of low-fat dairy products.” She continued, saying, “Such dairy products, which are widely consumed, could potentially be a modifiable risk factor for the disease.” Of course, this isn’t to say that eating too much dairy — specifically low-fat dairy — causes Parkinson’s disease, just that there seems to be a strong link.
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