You might have noticed that when you’re sick, drinking milk or eating dairy makes you feel worse. Your nose might feel more runny or your airways might clog up with mucus. Anecdotally, this experience is somewhat common. But does drinking milk actually make you more congested, or is the effect all in your head?
Though there are certainly foods you might want to avoid when you have a stuffy nose, the science on this is actually pretty clear: Dairy products such as milk, ice cream or yogurt do not worsen the symptoms of a cold.
One study published in the American Review of Respiratory Disease set out to investigate whether or not dairy causes mucus production. Sixty participants were infected with the common cold and monitored over 10 days. Some consumed dairy and some didn’t, but all participants’ nasal secretions were collected and weighed. (Sounds fun, right?) The results showed no difference in the amount of mucus between groups.
Another study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition fed sick some participants cow’s milk and others soy milk. Whether the participants drank dairy or dairy-free milk, they reported that their congestion was worse after drinking it. The researchers concluded that since participants believed their symptoms would get worse, they thought they did. So perhaps the myth perpetuates itself.
There is actually some evidence that eliminating dairy when you have a cold might actually be a bad idea. According to recommendations for ill patients published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, frozen dairy foods such as ice cream may help to soothe a sore throat — and consuming the protein, calcium, fatty acids and various vitamins in dairy products could help children get the nutrients they need at a time when they aren’t feeling hungry.
So there you have it. Consuming dairy when you’re sick won’t make your nose more congested. This is just another one of the many cold and flu myths you might still believe.