01/03/2024

Milk and dairy products are often controversial because they are thought to increase inflammation due to their saturated fat. Inflammation is your body’s built-in defense mechanism, and despite its bad reputation, it’s a sign that your body’s immune system is working hard to heal from injury, trauma, or damage. Depending on its cause and your body’s ability to deal with the injury, the inflammation can last for days or weeks (acute) or months or years (chronic). Chronic inflammation can develop into life-threatening diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. About 3 out of 5 people worldwide succumb to conditions like these, though Stat Pearls. Research has shown that dietary and lifestyle changes can help hinder inflammation and curb the possibility of disease. Who doesn’t want to live a life with less disease and better health? Your eating habits are one of your greatest tools for quelling inflammation.

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Ana Cadena

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Recipe in the photo: Berry and kefir smoothie


The Mediterranean diet is highly regarded by health and medical experts because it is chock full of bioactive compounds that may have anti-inflammatory effects, including polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The main features of the Mediterranean diet are whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products. Dairy products have long been a cornerstone of the human diet, supporting good nutrition throughout the lifespan for bone growth and development, according to a 2019 study in Nutrients. Some research, such as a 2020 article published in Foodssuggests that milk fats may have a neutral or positive effect on health, especially cardiovascular health.


That said, dairy products can provide nutrients to better meet vital nutritional needs. Dairy products boast noteworthy nutrients that could fend off inflammation vitamin D, calcium, antioxidants and probiotics, to name a few, according to a 2022 article in Animals. Keep in mind that the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlight some of these as nutrients that Americans eat too sparingly.


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These five fermented dairy products are good for your gut and may have anti-inflammatory potential to help your body resist the damaging effects of inflammation or reduce it altogether.



1. Yogurt

It’s tangy, versatile, and packed with nutrients, yogurt is a gut-friendly food made by fermenting milk with bacterial cultures such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus AND Thermophilic streptococcusaccording to a 2020 study in Nutrients. The grocery aisles offer a wide selection of yogurt varieties to choose from, from Greek to Icelandic. Nutritionally, yogurt is packed with nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, phosphorus, and magnesium, depending on the type. Research tells us that probiotics greatly improve the antioxidant status of dairy products, so probiotic yogurt may help improve your body’s anti-inflammatory power, according to a 2018 article in Nutritional reviews. To promote better digestive health, yogurt with probiotics can distribute “good” bacteria in your gut.


A 2021 study published in Nutrients of 1,753 participants found that yogurt consumption (average intake was 0.28 equivalent cups per day) was associated with lower levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a marker of inflammation. Additionally, a 2020 review of nine studies published in Medicine of obesity reported daily intakes of probiotic yogurt were linked to lower C-reactive protein (CRP), another inflammatory marker. However, these studies had no additive effect on other inflammatory markers.



2. Cultured buttermilk

Cultured buttermilk comes from fermenting skimmed or low-fat milk with bacterial cultures, resulting in a low-lactose probiotic drink, for British. Probiotics give your digestive tract a healthy boost that can support immune health. Your gut is home to trillions of living organisms, collectively called the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is responsible for various critical functions, including supporting the immune system to protect you from harmful diseases. Therefore, healthy bowel function depends on the support of probiotic-rich foods.


A 2022 study published in International journal of molecular sciences showed that buttermilk (and other dairy products) could promote the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFAs help maintain glucose homeostasis, which means stabilizing blood glucose and insulin levels for healthy metabolism. They also help control inflammation and immunity, and strengthen the intestinal barrier to keep harmful microbes from entering your bloodstream, according to the 2022 study above.


A 2019 study in Oral clinical investigations have found that buttermilk and other fermented dairy products can reduce inflammation in cells in and around the mouth, potentially helping with oral health.


Additionally, consumption of fermented milk drinks (including buttermilk) was linked to lower cardiovascular risk in a 2020 review of 20 longitudinal studies published in Advances in nutrition.



3. kefir

Kefir (pronounced kuh-feer) is an ancient fermented beverage that adds kefir grains (a mix of yeast, bacteria, and carbohydrates) to milk. Creamy and thick with a slight acidity, kefir contains many essential nutrients. Its fermentation produces many bioactive compounds, such as essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals. An 8-ounce serving provides 16 percent of the daily value of vitamin D, a nutrient many Americans lack. A small study from 2022 published in Borders in Endocrinology found that six months of vitamin D supplementation in children with low vitamin D levels reduced CRP. One cup of kefir also provides nearly 50 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin A, an antioxidant according to the USDA. Low vitamin A levels can compromise immune health, making recovery from illness difficult, according to the National Institutes of Health.


Additionally, kefir’s bioactive compounds, including lactic and acetic acids, may fight harmful pathogens in the intestinal lining, according to a 2021 review in Foods. Kefir contains probiotics and may help support immunity by helping you overcome infection and disease, according to a 2021 article in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy.


According to the 2021 review, some animal and human cell studies suggest other potential health benefits of kefir, including anticancer, antidiabetic, and antihypertensive abilities. Because much of the research on kefir has been done in human and animal cells, clinical trials are needed.



4. Cultured cottage cheese

Curdling the milk with acid and adding probiotics results in cultured cottage cheese. It is favored in the fitness community for its high protein content and goodness in combination with sweet tropical fruits. So how does it help fight inflammation? Like many other dairy products on this list, the lumpy, creamy food delivers probiotics to the gut, promoting healthy bacterial growth and survival, according to a 2020 study in Nutrition research.


A 2021 study of 35,352 postmenopausal women published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reported a connection between higher dairy intake (including cottage cheese) and lower CRP and IL-6 levels. The same study revealed that eating yogurt was linked to a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. These associations weren’t seen with milk or butter.


Cottage cheese can carry high amounts of sodium, which the America Heart Association recommends limiting to help prevent high blood pressure. Looking for a version with little or no salt might be beneficial.



5. Aged cheese

Hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Parmesan and Gouda result from the use of acid to curdle milk, cream or buttermilk. It ferments with added lactic acid bacteria, displaces whey, and is allowed to mature (or age) over time, according to a 2021 review in Frontiers in microbiology. Benefiting digestive health, aged cheeses are typically sources of probiotics as long as they haven’t been heated during processing. Swiss, provolone, Cheddar and Gouda are some examples.


According to a 2019 research in Dairy Science Journal, cheese can offer a stable environment for probiotics to live in, due to its high fat content, pH, and high water activity. Support your gut with cheeses containing probiotics, but consider moderating your intake since cheese can be high in calories and sodium.





The bottom line

While some research shows that dairy products can positively influence inflammation, there isn’t enough evidence to show that they’re surefire inflammation reducers. Dairy products can promote inflammation in people allergic to cow’s milk protein, those with lactose intolerance, or those with digestive problems after consuming dairy or milk products.


Eating a well-balanced diet that incorporates anti-inflammatory foods and being wary of foods that make inflammation worse can prepare your body to move away from inflammation and chronic disease.



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