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Does Dairy Impair the Immune System?

author image Jeffrey Traister
Jeffrey Traister is a writer and filmmaker. For more than 25 years, he has covered nutrition and medicine for health-care companies and publishers, also producing digital video for websites, DVDs and commercials. Trained in digital filmmaking at The New School, Traister also holds a Master of Science in human nutrition and medicine from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Does Dairy Impair the Immune System?
Close-up of several blocks of cheese on a cutting board.

Nutrition impacts the strength of your immune system and ability to fight infections and protect your health. Dairy is a big part of the human diet, providing a rich source of protein, calcium and other nutrients. Eating fermented dairy may help you build a strong immune system. However, if you have allergies, dairy can impair your immune system. Consult your doctor about the effects dairy has on your immune system.

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Dairy is a broad category of foods that are derived from cow’s milk. These foods include whole milk, skim milk, low-fat milk, butter, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, ice cream and yogurt. Dairy products also include milk proteins, such as casein and whey, that manufacturers use in processed foods. Contrary to what many people may believe, eggs are not considered dairy products, particularly because they come from chickens and not cows.

Immune System

Your immune system protects you from foreign substance and microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. The digestive tract is a common entry point for many foreign substances and pathological organisms. Foreign substances, such as certain proteins, are called antigens that activate your white blood cells to attack and annihilate the antigen. In response to antigens, your body releases antibodies, lymphocytes, phagocytes and other types of immune cells to protect your body from damage these foreign substances and organisms may cause.

Dairy Allergies

An allergy to milk or other dairy products are among the most common food allergies. These allergies cause numerous health problems. An allergy is defined as an immune response to a substance that causes inflammation and tissue damage in any part of your body. However, the substances in most allergies, including milk and dairy, are usually harmless and it is the body’s reaction that causes the most problems. A milk and dairy allergy causes ear infections in children, inflammation of the sinus, heartburn, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, anxiety and irritability. Symptoms from a milk and dairy allergy may not show up until hours or days after you have eaten these foods. Lactose intolerance, however, is not an allergy to milk and dairy even though symptoms may be similar. Lactose intolerance is defined as a deficiency in lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose, a sugar in milk.

Fermented Dairy Products

Eating fermented dairy products enhances your immune system and protects you from gastrointestinal and respiratory infections. Scientists at Danone Research in Palaiseau Cedex, France found that consumption of fermented dairy products containing Lactobacillus casei DN-114 001 may reduce the risk of common gastrointestinal and respiratory infections in shift workers, according to research published in the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" in October 2010. The scientists report that the risks of infections among shift workers are normally higher than the general population. The results demonstrate that fermented dairy enhances your immune system, even when you are experiencing stress.

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