How Does Dairy Affect the Body?

A lot of people are switching from milk-based foods to non-dairy options. The reasons range from ethical (the way farmers treat the animals) to health reasons and how it makes them physically feel. But how does dairy really affect body? We did some digging.


We can hear you now. “Cheese is delicious. It’s wonderful as a snack or part of a meal. Please don’t tell us it’s going to also be the death of us!”

Well, the science is mixed.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, milk and other dairy products are the top sources of saturated fat in the American diet. Why does that matter? Saturated fat can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also linked dairy to an increased risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers — but this could also have to do with a high-fat diet, and not simply the consumption of milk products.

But that’s not the end of the story.

How Does Dairy Affect the Body
Photo: Shutterstock

Healthline notes that scientists have started to question the role of dairy fat in the development of heart disease. They offer evidence from the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the National Institutes of Health that show:

  • Some studies claim no link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease — at least for the majority of people.
  • One major study in the US linked dairy fat to an increased risk of heart disease. However, many other studies suggest that full-fat dairy has a protective effect on both heart disease and stroke.
  • In one review of 10 studies — most of which used full-fat dairy — milk was linked to a reduced risk of stroke and cardiac events.
  • In places where cows are largely grass-fed, full-fat dairy is associated with major reductions in heart disease and stroke risk.

So, basically, science is mixed. Many arguments are made to follow a specific belief — such as not consuming dairy products, or supporting the dairy industry. As always, it’s up to you and your own health history that should impact the decision.

Why Does Milk Upset Your Stomach?

You’ve likely heard the term “lactose intolerance” before. People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest the sugar (lactose) in milk. As a result, they have diarrhea, gas, and bloating after eating or drinking dairy products. While the Mayo Clinic notes that lactose intolerance is usually harmless, its symptoms can be uncomfortable.

For this reason, a lot of people turn to non-dairy substitutes, such as almond, oat, or rice “milks” and products. For these, there is no right or wrong option, it comes down to taste. However, it’s important to check the sugar and fat content in these items, as sometimes there are a lot of additives put in place to mimic the flavor and texture of a milk product.

How Does Dairy Affect the Body? — Sources

National Institutes of Health 
Mayo Clinic