Trending Clinical Topic: Dairy

Ryan Syrek

Disclosures

March 13, 2020

Each week, we identify one top search term, speculate about what caused its popularity, and provide an infographic on a related condition. If you have thoughts about what's trending and why, feel free to share them with us on Twitter or Facebook.

A recent review that rethinks the nutritional role of cow's milk, and a new study that links drinking milk to an increased risk for breast cancer, made dairy this week's top trending clinical topic.

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine reviewed the science behind dietary recommendations regarding the consumption of dairy. Researchers found that evidence in support of current guidelines is thin and that eating too much dairy may cause harm to both the human body and the environment. The findings echo another review which concluded that dairy should be removed as a separate food group and incorporated into the protein category. This would make dairy one choice among many to help individuals meet protein requirements. Although both articles stop short of saying that cow's milk is dangerous or harmful, they do suggest adapting current dietary guidance, in part because the science behind calcium recommendations appears to be questionable.

In regard to more potentially serious associations with dairy consumption, an observational study found that consuming milk daily increased the risk for breast cancer. Experts cautioned that other confounders may not be accounted for in the study and that the results were significant only for postmenopausal women and hormone receptor–positive cancers. Conflicting research has emerged regarding the link between dairy and breast cancer risk, including one study that showed a decreased risk with dairy consumption.

In general, dairy recommendations are a complex subject, with some evidence showing benefits like improved nutrition in low-income settings, taller stature, and decreased colorectal cancer risk. But dairy has also been linked to increased risk for prostate and endometrial cancer, as well as breast cancer. As nutrition guidance continues to evolve, milk specifically and dairy in general are likely to remain popular clinical topics.

Read more about other breast cancer risk factors.

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