Milk and dairy products: good or bad for human health? An assessment of the totality of scientific evidence

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewResearchpeer-review


  • Tanja Kongerslev Thorning
  • Raben, Anne
  • Tine Tholstrup
  • Sabita S Soedamah-Muthu
  • Ian Givens
  • Arne Astrup

BACKGROUND: There is scepticism about health effects of dairy products in the public, which is reflected in an increasing intake of plant-based drinks, for example, from soy, rice, almond, or oat.

OBJECTIVE: This review aimed to assess the scientific evidence mainly from meta-analyses of observational studies and randomised controlled trials, on dairy intake and risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, cancer, and all-cause mortality.

RESULTS: The most recent evidence suggested that intake of milk and dairy products was associated with reduced risk of childhood obesity. In adults, intake of dairy products was shown to improve body composition and facilitate weight loss during energy restriction. In addition, intake of milk and dairy products was associated with a neutral or reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly stroke. Furthermore, the evidence suggested a beneficial effect of milk and dairy intake on bone mineral density but no association with risk of bone fracture. Among cancers, milk and dairy intake was inversely associated with colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, gastric cancer, and breast cancer, and not associated with risk of pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, or lung cancer, while the evidence for prostate cancer risk was inconsistent. Finally, consumption of milk and dairy products was not associated with all-cause mortality. Calcium-fortified plant-based drinks have been included as an alternative to dairy products in the nutrition recommendations in several countries. However, nutritionally, cow's milk and plant-based drinks are completely different foods, and an evidence-based conclusion on the health value of the plant-based drinks requires more studies in humans.

CONCLUSION: The totality of available scientific evidence supports that intake of milk and dairy products contribute to meet nutrient recommendations, and may protect against the most prevalent chronic diseases, whereas very few adverse effects have been reported.

Original languageEnglish
Article number32527
JournalFood & Nutrition Research
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Science - Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, Osteoporosis, Cancer, Mortality

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