Why Drinking Milk While You Have A Cold Can Worsen Symptoms

May 30, 2023

We’ve all been there: the aching sinuses, the congestion, the coughing, and the sleepless nights. Having the common cold can be pure misery, to be sure. While the list of purported remedies is long enough to make your head spin, there is no actual known cure. Conventional wisdom encourages the consumption of warm soups, teas and foods rich in vitamin C to alleviate symptoms faster. But what about the foods you should avoid when fighting a cold? What foods can impede the healing process? What foods can make your unpleasant symptoms even worse? 

In the twelfth century, physician-philosopher Moses Maimonides wrote in his Treatise on Asthma that milk could cause a “stuffing in the head” (i.e. increased mucus production). Sadly, hundreds of years later, humanity is still debating the veracity of his claim. So, for those of you out there battling a cold, or allergies, or just suffering with excess mucus production and looking for relief, we decided to set the record straight.

Why does my nose run after I drink milk?

Cow’s milk contains a protein called casein—which constitutes roughly 80 percent of the total protein content in cow’s milk—that increases mucus production (1). Researchers hypothesize that when milk proteins reach the gut, mucus production is stimulated. Increased intestinal permeability, due to disease, poor diet, or strenuous exercise, can allow casein to leak through the gut and cause excess mucus production in the respiratory tract as well (2).

Do I have a dairy allergy?

For those who suffer from a dairy allergy the human body recognizes cow’s milk protein as a foreign invader, which it is, triggering the release of a chemical called histamine. While a dairy allergy can be life threatening, some common symptoms that result from histamine release in the body may include runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing, just to name a few. Even a small amount of casein can trigger these symptoms, and far worse reactions, for those afflicted with a dairy allergy. And while having a cold can already range from unpleasant to debilitating, dairy consumption can exacerbate symptoms.

Should I avoid drinking cow’s milk when I have a cold?

It’s perfectly normal to have a runny nose when you have a cold. Your nose is running to get rid of the infection. When your body is under siege by a cold virus it produces an immune response, and one of these mechanisms is to produce mucus to trap the virus or bacteria and flush out the uninvited guest from your sinuses. However, excess mucus can back up into your ears and lead to an ear infection, or drain down your throat and cause a cough or sore throat as well. 

Along with causing excess mucus, if you’re suffering from respiratory issues due to having a cold or flu, cow’s milk will coat your throat and likely make you feel like even more mucus is present. This is in addition to the plethora of health consequences caused by cow’s milk consumption. A runny nose and an unpleasant sensation in your mouth or throat is just the tip of the iceberg. 

What you can do about excess mucus.

While taking antihistamines or reducing dairy consumption might be effective, removing dairy from your diet entirely is the best way to alleviate these symptoms, especially when you’re already suffering from a cold.

Cutting dairy out of your diet can be one of the best decisions you can make to improve your health and quality of life all around. Turns out that twelfth-century physician was onto something.

Looking for a cow’s milk alternative? Check out our extensive list of delicious plant milk options! 

17 Types of Plant-Based Milks You Need to Try!

1) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30178886/

2) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19932941/

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