Dairy Myth-busters Series: Milk Causes Mucus
Recently, my husband had a bad cough and made an appointment at his doctor’s office. He was seen by a family nurse practitioner and was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection and pneumonia. A brief conversation ensued:
Nurse practitioner: I don’t know if you’re a big dairy guy or not, but you may want to cut back because it causes mucus in the respiratory tract.
My husband: My wife is a registered dietitian and she wouldn’t like to hear that.
That was that. My husband’s got my back, but I guess he was too weak (from pneumonia) to fully defend my “nutrition position.” However, he did give me fodder for another milk myth in need of busting—and just in time for the cold and flu season.
Some believe that drinking milk increases mucus production which aggravates colds, allergies, asthma or congestion. Because of this belief, people with these conditions—as well as singers, public speakers and athletes—are sometimes advised to stop drinking milk. But this advice is unfounded.
A review of research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (2005) found no conclusive evidence that consuming milk increases mucus production and aggravates the congestion of colds, allergies or asthma.
Dr. Lucian Sulica agrees. Dr. Sulica is the director of voice disorders and laryngology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center agrees. In the article “Milk as Menace” in The New York Times (June 20, 2011), Dr. Sulica said that there is no evidence that dairy products, especially milk, increase phlegm or the viscosity of phlegm.
Although Dr. Sulica noted that subjects who believed in the phenomenon reported that they did feel more mucus when they consumed dairy products, he concluded, “The question has been formally investigated in studies, which demonstrated no increase in mucus production.”
So, although drinking milk may give some people the perception of more mucus, milk doesn’t cause the body to produce more mucus or phlegm. In fact, dairy products can help rather than hinder recovery from a cold or the flu. Since milk is about 87% water, it adds to fluid intake, and frozen dairy products and smoothies may soothe a sore throat.
Misperceptions Regarding Dairy Foods: A Review of the Evidence, Dairy Council Digest, Jan/Feb 2010