6 Important Benefits Of Milk, Nutrition, And Side Effects

Medically Reviewed by Merlin Annie Raj, RD (Registered Dietitian)
Written by Swathi Handoo, MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health

We all are aware that milk benefits us in multiple ways. Whether we add it to a protein shake, make a low-fat yogurt, or consume it directly, it boosts our overall health. Milk is one of the most used ingredients in many foods and is often among the healthiest additions.

Learn more about the array of benefits milk offers and other interesting facts about milk. Continue reading.

Health Benefits Of Having Milk

1. Builds Stronger Bones

Building a strong skeleton and maintaining healthy bones from fetal life to adulthood (and menopause) is vital. This prevents osteoporosis, bone loss, and related frailty. During peak growth in the early teenage years, the body might require as much as 400 mg of calcium per day!

Remember that you need vitamin D and magnesium too to avoid bone loss. This is especially true for women undergoing menopause – as estrogen fluctuations can trigger bone loss (decrease in bone density) (2).

Drinking enough milk can offer the solution. 100 g of milk has about 120-124 mg of calcium and 11-14 mg of magnesium, which are 40% and 10% of the RDA respectively. Woah!

2. Promotes Heart Health

Having 200-300 mL of milk a day was found to cut heart disease risk by 7%. Having low-fat milk can increase good cholesterol (HDL) levels and lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). So, no clogged blood vessels.

Also, the abundant calcium in milk dilates the blood vessels and strengthens the cardiac muscles. The bottom line – drinking low-fat milk from a young age can prevent atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, angina, and other life-threatening heart diseases (3). Milk is loaded with many essential nutrients and contains potassium, which helps in regulating and maintaining blood pressure.

Remember!

  • Regardless of its fat content, milk provides about 300 mg of calcium per serving (8 fl. oz).
  • The following dosage of milk (or its equivalent) is recommended each day to help meet calcium needs:

        Children (4-8 years): 3 servings Children

        (9-18 years): 4 servings Adults

        (19-50 years): 3 servings Adults

        (50+ years): 4 servings

3. Cures Stomach Ailments And Indigestion

About 3% of bovine milk is protein, 80% of which is made up of casein. The primary role of casein is to carry minerals to target sites.

For instance, casein binds to calcium and phosphorus and delivers them to the digestive tract. These minerals accelerate digestion by stimulating the release of digestive juices in your stomach.

Casein also pairs with small amino acid chains, called peptides. These casein-peptide complexes prevent pathogen attacks in the GI tract by secreting slimy mucin that traps them (1). So, calcium and milk proteins are capable of treating indigestion, gastritis, ulcers, heartburn due to GERD, bacterial infections, and even stomach cancers.

4. Lowers Risk Of Diabetes

Many hypotheses about milk and type 2 diabetes are floating around. Though there is scope for immense research, some hypotheses logically elucidate the effect of milk on such chronic diseases.

This time (again!), the heroes are calcium, magnesium, and peptides. These ingredients alter glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in your body.

Also, the whey proteins in milk improve satiety and appetite control. This way, you don’t overeat and invite obesity. With such control, you can avoid lipid peroxidation, organ inflammation, and finally diabetes (1), (4). All this, only if you drink milk!

5. Cleanses Your Skin

Whole milk is a reservoir of soluble whey proteins. A few of them, like lactoferrin, have potent anti-inflammatory activity. Topical application of fermented milk that is rich in lactoferrin can cure inflammatory conditions like acne vulgaris.

Drinking low-fat skim milk can also prevent and effectively manage acne, psoriasis, pathogenic skin infections, lesions, and breakouts. This is because skim milk has negligible fat and triglyceride content. In one study, milk application reduced skin sebum content on the skin by 31% (5)!

Did we forget vitamin D?

Synonymous with milk, vitamin D protects your skin from UV light. Optimal vitamin D levels protect you from sunburn and melanoma (skin cancer) (6).

Milk Mania!

  • The earliest recorded burn dressings were made with milk from mothers of male babies (7).
  • As milk has whey proteins and minerals that accelerate skin healing, it is used to treat acute burns, scars, and allergies (8).

6. Induces Sound Sleep

Many of us believe that drinking hot water induces sound sleep. But replace it with hot milk, and see the difference for yourself!

Several studies show that drinking hot milk with Horlicks before going to bed reduces small sleep movements. Small movements can happen due to hunger, a sudden release of neurotransmitters, or other unknown cellular processes (9).

Such small movements disturb your sleep and make you cranky. Many theories also explain how Lactobacillus-fermented milk can control hunger contractions, soothe your gut, and enhance sleep quality (10).

What Are The Components Of Milk?

Milk is a complex fluid. Regardless of the source, milk is composed of fat, protein, lactose, and ash. Other components include water, minerals, and vitamins. Each source has these nutrients in varied percentages.

Within each source, milk composition depends on the stage of lactation. This happens because the nutritional requirement of a newborn will be different from that of a 12-month old offspring.

The nutritional profile also depends on how evolved the gastrointestinal system of the offsprings in each species is.

Something like this (1) –

GoatSheepCowHuman
Fat (%)3.87.93.64.0
Lactose (%)4.14.94.76.9
Protein (%)3.46.23.21.2
Energy (Kcal/100 ml)701056968
Calcium (mg/100 g)134193/td>12233
Phosphorus (mg/100 g)121158/td>11943
Vitamin A (IU)185146126190
Vitamin D (IU)2.30.18 (µg)2.01.4

Most of us prefer either cow or buffalo milk because of the low fat and high micronutrient content. The following table gives you the numbers so that you can make a wise choice (1).

NutrientCowBuffaloHuman
Water, g88.084.087.5
Energy, Kcal61.097.070.0
Protein, g3.27.71.0
Fat, g3.46.94.4
Lactose, g4.75.26.9
Minerals, g0.720.790.20

So, is a glass of cow or buffalo milk sufficient? The answer might not always be yes. For instance, obese individuals are asked to stay away from fats. How can they enjoy the goodness of milk?

That’s how the fortified, low-fat, and skim milk varieties came into existence. Look at how the numbers change with processing (1).

Composition (100 g)WholeLow-FatSkim
Energy (Kcal)624734
Water (g)88.189.190.5
Protein (g)33.43.3
Fat (g)3.51.60.2
Carbohydrates (g)4.74.94.9
Cholesterol (mg)1381
Vitamin A (mg)59220
Vitamin D (mg)0.050.050
Vitamin B1 (mg)0.040.040.05
Vitamin B2 (mg)0.140.110.05
Na (mg)434141
Ca (mg)109112114
Mg (mg)9910

Boy, that’s a lot of variety and stats! The point I’m trying to make here is, today, you can get milk ‘customized’ to your needs. You name a disorder, and you have a fortified or toned milk variety for it.

For most of us, milk is our first love. We just can’t do without it. But there are a few for whom milk is their first enemy. A bit of milk or milk products can cause problems.

And that means lactose intolerance. Read on to know more about lactose intolerance and other risks associated with drinking milk.

Can Milk Have Side Effects And Risks?

1. Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is the sugar found in milk and milk products. To break it down into glucose, our small intestine produces an enzyme called lactase. When there is insufficient lactase produced, your stomach cannot effectively absorb lactose – and this results in lactose intolerance.

And that’s when undigested lactose passes through the intestine, as it is. As it reaches the colon, the bacteria there break it down to produce glucose, but along with it, fluid and gas are formed. So, the classic symptoms of lactose intolerance are bloating, diarrhea, gas, nausea, and gastric discomfort (11).

2. Milk Allergy

Milk allergy is a reaction by the body’s immune system to one or more milk proteins. An allergic reaction to milk can be life-threatening – even if the person takes only a small amount of milk or milk products.

Milk allergy most commonly occurs in infants or one-year-olds, while lactose intolerance occurs more often during adolescence or adulthood (11).

Note the difference!

3. Acidity And Gastric Cancer

While there are research papers that say drinking milk can reduce gastritis and ulcers, there are few others that disagree.

As the casein in milk helps transport minerals and peptides to the gut, it can even trigger excessive production of gastric juices. This changes the pH balance of the stomach.

Instead of healing, this feedback effect of milk could aggravate peptic ulcers. Worst case, the build-up of such pH imbalance in the gut might lead to gastric cancer.

4. Hormonal Imbalance

Bovine milk (cow and buffalo) has natural hormones secreted by the animal. Estrogen is one such hormone that is found abundantly in milk.

Your body already produces estrogen to perform assigned roles. Excess estrogen through milk can cause issues, especially in men. Some studies show how estrogen from milk can cause cancers of the breast, prostate, and testes (12).

5. Bacterial Infections

Drinking raw milk from cow, goat, sheep, or buffalo can cause acute and chronic pathogenic infections. Unpasteurized milk has dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, Yersinia, Brucella, Coxiella, and Listeria.

Most commonly, bacteria in raw milk can cause vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), abdominal pain, fever, headache, and body aches. In rare cases, it can also result in severe or even life-threatening diseases like paralysis, hemolytic uremic syndrome, kidney failure, stroke, and even death (13).

It’s confusing and scary! So, should we drink milk or not?

What’s The Verdict?

The benefits of milk, obviously, outweigh the risks. So, yes, drinking milk is mandatory.

However, keep the following in mind:

  • Check if you are lactose intolerant/have milk or protein allergy.
  • Is the milk pasteurized and thoroughly processed?What’s the source of the milk – cow, buffalo, goat, sheep?
  • What is the fat content in the milk?
  • Is the brand reliable?

The benefits of milk are many. It helps build stronger bones as it is rich in calcium. It also reduces the risk of osteoporosis and combats bone loss. It also can promote cardiovascular health as the calcium in milk strengthens the cardiac muscles. Furthermore, it increases HDL cholesterol levels and decreases LDL cholesterol levels. In addition, milk can aid in managing stomach ailments and indigestion. If consumed in moderation, milk can lower the risk of diabetes too. It also cleanses the skin and induces sleep. However, milk intake is also associated with lactose intolerance, milk allergy, hormonal imbalance, and bacterial infection. Hence, caution is advised. However, if you are not allergic to milk, you may include it in moderate amounts in your daily diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the right time to drink milk in a day?

If you are looking to build muscles and strength, the best time to have milk is in the morning. You generally have more physical activity in the morning. If you are looking to improve sleep, digestion, and gut health, nights are a better option.
Though there is not enough research yet, figuring out how it works for you is the best way to decide – at least in adults.

Can you drink milk on an empty stomach?

Yes, you can drink milk first thing in the morning. Although it might get a little heavy to digest, if you are not lactose intolerant, milk should be okay.
On the contrary, some researchers suggest a detox first. Start your day with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. It helps maintain the pH of the gut and preps it up for the day’s gastric activity. Having milk after this detox is still a good option.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Milk nutritional composition and…” Nutrition, Elsevier
  2. Milk and bones” Helen Hayes Hospital, US National Library of Medicine
  3. Potential of Casein as a Carrier for Biologically Active Agents” PubMed Central
  4. Milk intake and the risk of type 2…” Arquivos Brasileiros de Endocrinologia & Metabologia, US National Library of Medicine
  5. Dietary effect of lactoferrin-enriched fermented milk…” Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine
  6. Vitamin-D Beliefs and Associations” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, US National Library of Medicine
  7. Burns treatment in ancient times” Medicinski Pregled, US National Library of Medicine
  8. Anti-inflammatory and Wound Healing…” International Journal of Lower Extremity Wounds
  9. Effect of a Hot Milk Drink on…” British Medical Journal
  10. The effect of Lactobacillus helveticus fermented milk…” European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine
  11. Lactose Intolerance” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
  12. Hormones in Dairy Foods and Their Impact on Public Health – A Narrative Review Article” PubMed Central
  13. Bacterial Contaminations of Informally Marketed Raw Milk in Ghana” PubMed Central
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Merlin Annie Raj

(Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)
Merlin Annie Raj is a Registered Dietitian based out of Hyderabad, India. She has vast experience in Clinical Nutrition as... more

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