Science and Health

Can Drinking Milk Lead To Early Death?

Researchers in Sweden released a study showing heavy milk drinkers face an increased mortality risk from a variety of causes.

Can Drinking Milk Lead To Early Death?
Ministry of Information Photo Division

Most Americans have grown up hearing about the health benefits of drinking milk.

Dairy, particularly milk, has been a fixed part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid for decades. 

CALIFORNIA MILK PROCESSOR BOARD: "We'll Mr. Miller told me he never drinks milk and look at him. *screams*" 

But a new study out of Sweden actually links milk consumption to the problems it's supposed to prevent, like cardiovascular disease and bone fractures. One possible explanation for the findings is a simple sugar found in milk called galactose. 

CBS"It can create compounds that create inflammation within our blood vessels and something called oxidative stress in our cells. What we know about both of those things is that they cause illness like heart disease, stroke, and they're bad for our bones." 

One of the study's authors explained to LiveScience"If you provide galactose to experimental animals, they will die faster by induction of oxidative stress and inflammation. ... I've been involved in this research area for several decades now. This last study really convinced me."

The study relied on health surveys in Sweden, which, the authors warn, isn't an ironclad way to nail down cause and effect. But their numbers are pretty shocking. 

The researchers looked at participants who drank three or more glasses of milk a day. 

For women, it seemed the risk for early death or cardiovascular disease was much higher than for men, with chances doubling and the risk for cancer increasing by 44 percent. That's compared to a 10 percent increase for early death or cardiovascular disease in men. 

An interesting side note"When fermented milk products such as [yogurt] were considered, the opposite pattern was observed - people who consumed more had a lower risk of fractures." 

Although you shouldn't change your diet because of one study, there are other reasons to make sure you're not going overboard with milk consumption. 

FOX NEWS: "You don't want to have too much calcium. ... I think that drinking one cup of milk a day is OK, so if you're having a little milk with your cereal or coffee, that's fine. But drinking excessive amounts is not good." 

So it looks like the lesson here is, if you're going to drink milk, do so in moderation along with a balanced diet. 

This video includes images from the U.S. Department of AgricultureMinistry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Jynto and Ben MillsStefan Kühn / CC BY SA 3.0 and the Library of Congress.