RESEARCHER: Dr. Danielle Lemay, USDA, 2019

KEY TAKE-A-WAYS 

• Research on the relationship between dairy intake and gastrointestinal (GI) inflammation is needed due to consumer misperceptions of dairy as pro-inflammatory.

• In a recent study of 393 healthy adults from California, researchers found no association between dairy intake and markers of GI inflammation.

• Further study in this project yielded results which suggest that fluid milk intake has neutral effects on GI inflammation while yogurt consumption may be protective against GI inflammation. Intervention studies that directly test these promising findings are warranted. 

BACKGROUND, OBJECTIVES, FINDINGS AND OUTCOMES 

Many consumers are concerned about the effects of dairy products on gastro-intestinal (GI) health, based in part on the growing competition from plant-based milk alternatives. Studies on dairy intake and GI inflammation in healthy adults are limited, and difficult to conduct, but are critical to consumer perception of dairy foods.

To understand the relationship between dairy intake and markers of GI health, researchers from the USDA Western Human Nutrition Research Center conducted an observational, cross-sectional study of 393 healthy adults from California. The study measured levels of four markers associated with GI inflammation, three from fecal samples and one from plasma. In addition, the researchers investigated the relationship between dairy intake and three novel markers of GI protection. 

After adjusting for the potential confounding variables, the researchers found no significant associations between dairy intake and GI inflammatory markers, suggesting that dairy intake was not linked to gut inflammation in the population studied. 

This study found no associations between dairy intake and inflammation of the GI tract. Rather, dairy foods, particularly yogurt, were found to have the potential to protect against GI inflammation. Results from this study have been summarized in several publications and presentations at professional society meetings, such as the American Society for Nutrition.

Further research in this area is warranted as it could further dispel misperceptions about dairy and GI inflammation and help support the design of dairy-containing functional foods aimed at improving gut health.