Does Dairy Impact Inflammatory Conditions?

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Most chronic inflammatory diseases are strongly influenced by nutrition. According to the Arthritis Foundation, a diet high in saturated fat — found in full-fat dairy products — can increase inflammation. But the research is conflicting. A review of 52 human studies reported in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that a majority of the research suggests that dairy products have an anti-inflammatory effect, particularly in people who suffer from metabolic disorders.


Should you avoid dairy?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American drinks 18 gallons of milk each year, which has declined over the years. It is thought that fewer people are drinking milk due to allergies, intolerance, and a perception that dairy products may be doing more harm than good. Given this conflicting research, you may be wondering if you should limit or increase the amount of dairy in your diet. HealthCentral breaks down the research for common conditions and the effect dairy may have on your symptoms.


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

While the research is inconclusive, some people living with RA have reported an improvement in their symptoms by avoiding dairy products. One study found that a strain of bacteria found in both beef and milk may trigger RA for people who are genetically at risk for developing this disease.



If you are living with inflammatory gout, dairy may help to improve your symptoms. One study published in Clinical Rheumatology found that participants who followed a DASH diet, which contains two to three servings of dairy products daily, had lower serum uric acid levels over time and reduced gout flares.


Ankylosing spondylitis (AS)

The evidence linking diet to AS is extremely limited. It is known, however, that adequate vitamin D and calcium intake are essential to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin D. If you opt to avoid dairy, make sure to include milk alternatives, leafy green vegetables, and other foods fortified with calcium and vitamin D into your diet to reduce your risk of osteoporosis.



According to the National Lupus Foundation, there is no one specific diet to follow if you are living with lupus. However, it’s important to consume a well-balanced diet and foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, since corticosteroids that are often part of lupus treatment increase the risk of osteoporosis. If you avoid dairy because you believe that it exacerbates your symptoms, include non-dairy sources of calcium and vitamin D in your daily diet. Supplementation may still be needed.


Psoriatic arthritis

While there is no cure for psoriatic arthritis, many people living with this condition report that avoiding certain foods helps improve their symptoms. A survey reported in Dermatologic Therapy of over 1,200 patients with this condition found that six percent of those surveyed avoided dairy because they believed it to be a trigger for their symptoms. More research is needed to investigate the role of diet in people living with psoriatic arthritis.



Dairy products have been well-studied with their relationship to bone health, but there is mixed research with osteoarthritis. One study found a positive correlation between frequent milk intake and a reduced risk of knee osteoarthritis in women. Another study found similar results with increased cheese intake. Yet other studies have linked dairy to low-grade inflammation and even an increased risk for hip replacement. More research is needed to study this relationship.



There is limited research on the connection between diet and the chronic pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia. One study reported that participants who followed a raw vegetarian diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains had dramatically reduced pain and fatigue, but more research is needed to evaluate this correlation. Low levels of vitamin D may worsen symptoms, so if you choose to avoid dairy products, make sure that you are consuming other vitamin D-rich foods.


The bottom line

More research is needed to investigate the role of dairy products in chronic inflammatory conditions. If you think that avoiding dairy products may be helpful in minimizing your symptoms, it may be worth trying an elimination diet to see if your symptoms improve. Consider working with a registered dietitian during the elimination period to make sure that your diet is nutritionally sound and contains all nutrients to support good health.