Person pouring milk into bowl of cereal and wondering if dairy causes inflammation

Does dairy cause inflammation?

Medically reviewed on August 1, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Perhaps you enjoy a glass of milk at every meal, start your day with a yogurt bowl, or simply enjoy some ice cream from time to time. As you enjoyed your dairy treats, however, you might have also heard rumors about what it can do to your health—specifically, how dairy might influence inflammation in the body.

There's a long list of purported "anti inflammatory foods" and "inflammatory foods." Sadly, dairy and milk products seem to pop up on the inflammatory foods list from time to time.

Whether or not dairy causes inflammation in the body is an often-debated question. Some scientists believe the link between certain nutrients in dairy and inflammation is proof enough that it does. On the other hand, some studies suggest that dairy doesn’t affect inflammation. [2]

As you can see, there’s a lot of confusion around this issue. To uncover the answer to this dairy mystery, we’ll take a look at what the science says. With this guide, you’ll be able to understand what kinds of dairy might cause inflammation and whether some dairy might actually help to prevent it.

An intro to inflammation

If you want to understand the links between dairy consumption and inflammation, it helps to begin with a solid understanding of exactly what inflammation is.

Inflammation is the result of your body’s immune system kicking on in response to injury or threatening agents like bacteria, viruses, and allergens. When you become injured or are exposed to those threatening agents, your body produces inflammatory cells.

These cells help to do two important things:

  • Attack and kill threats
  • Heal damaged tissue

The symptoms we typically associate with inflammation—like bruising, pain, redness, and swelling—are the result of your inflammatory cells doing their work to defend and repair your body.

In general, situational or acute inflammation is not a serious condition. Even though the symptoms can be uncomfortable, they’re often signs that the healing process has begun. But if your body keeps producing inflammatory cells even when it doesn’t need them, you can develop chronic inflammation conditions like arthritis. [3]

Systemic inflammation can sometimes manifest as skin inflammation, like in the case of psoriasis. Psoriasis is an immune-mediated chronic disease characterized by skin and joint inflammation (psoriatic arthritis). [4]

The question “Does dairy cause inflammation?” has inspired scientists to conduct research on the topic for decades. However, despite an array of formal studies, most conclude that we can’t say for sure that dairy or milk products are or aren't inflammatory. But they can tell us about certain situations when dairy may help—or hurt—inflammation in the body:

  • One 2019 study suggested that increased consumption of certain dairy products could negatively impact the immune system. [6]
  • On the other hand, the results of a 2018 study are optimistic about the anti-inflammatory potential of dairy products like yogurt. [7]

All that aside, two surveys from recent years seem mostly to support the idea that dairy doesn’t cause inflammation:

  • A 2019 review of 16 studies looked into the links between dairy consumption and inflammation and found that, in healthy individuals, dairy consumption did not increase inflammation. [2] In fact, some evidence from this review suggests that dairy may have the opposite effect—that is, it could help reduce and prevent inflammation.
  • A 2018 review of eight separate studies had similar findings in individuals who were overweight. [1]

So what’s behind those inflammatory rumors?

The belief that dairy consumption contributes to bodily inflammation is not uncommon. But what’s at the root of this belief?

For many, it mostly comes down to saturated fats.

Saturated fats are fat cells that are found in many animal-based foods like meat, eggs, and dairy. [8] Your body relies on some fats to survive, like trans fat. On the other hand, saturated fats have been shown to raise cholesterol levels in your blood, putting you at greater risk of stroke and heart disease.

Some research has also linked saturated fats to inflammation, claiming that the body confuses saturated fatty acids with bacterial molecules known as lipopolysaccharides which can induce an inflammatory response. [9]

This link between dairy and saturated fats perhaps helps explain why so many people wonder about the relationship between dairy and inflammation. However, it’s important to remember that not all dairy products are the same.

What dairy products might be more inflammatory?

More research is needed to definitively answer the question, “Does dairy cause inflammation?” In the meantime, the evidence at hand offers some guidance about how to navigate the intersection of diary, inflammation, and your body.

As mentioned above, there is some reason to believe that saturated fats may play a role in inflammation. While not all dairy products contain high levels of saturated fats, some products contain more than others. [10] For that reason, if you’re concerned that your dairy intake is resulting in inflammation, you may want to avoid full-fat dairy products like:

  • Butter
  • Fermented dairy foods like cheeses, including cottage cheese
  • Creams and creamy sauces, like alfredo
  • Full-fat ice cream
  • Whole milk and 2% milk

Know your inflammation levels with Everlywell

Understanding how different foods can affect your body is an important step toward wellness. While science can’t say definitively whether dairy consumption causes inflammation, it can help guide us on whether some dairy products are more likely to—like those full-fat creams and cheeses.

If you’re concerned about inflammation, however, you can do more than guess at the possible causes — Everlywell is here to help you find out more.

A good start is to test for inflammatory markers and levels. Want to know how to test for inflammation?

The Everlywell Vitamin D & Inflammation Test can help you check the levels of inflammation in your body, as well as test your levels of vitamin D. It’s the easy, at-home way to begin understanding your personal relationship with inflammation—so you can start making choices that lead to a healthier tomorrow.

How to test for inflammation: a quick guide

How to reduce skin inflammation: treatment tips

8 supplements to reduce inflammation in the body

What is skin inflammation?


  1. Impact of dairy products on biomarkers of inflammation: a systematic review of randomized controlled nutritional intervention studies in overweight and obese adults. PubMed. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  2. Milk and Dairy Product Consumption and Inflammatory Biomarkers: An Updated Systematic Review of Randomized Clinical Trials. PubMed. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  3. Inflammation: What Is It, Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  4. About Psoriasis. National Psoriasis Foundation. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  5. Changes in dairy product consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from 3 large prospective cohorts of US men and women. PubMed. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  6. Dairy consumption and inflammatory profile: A cross-sectional population-based study, São Paulo, Brazil. PubMed. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  7. Dietary fat: know which to choose. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  8. The science of fatty acids and inflammation. PubMed. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  9. Fats: Healthy & Unhealthy Fats, Nutrition. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
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