What is the Connection Between Milk and Diabetes?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The relationship between milk and diabetes is not fully understood. In certain cases, there appears to be evidence that cow’s milk proteins in baby formula may make infants or children more likely to develop Type I diabetes, if they have a strong family history of the condition. Some claim that drinking milk when a person requires insulin may throw off blood sugar levels, while at the same time others suggest low fat dairy can be a healthy food choice to lose weight and possibly lose an insulin-dependence, or it may keep people slimmer and avoid development of diabetes Type II altogether. Other research suggests that milk and diabetes may be specifically related in certain types of cows, but not in others. It’s a subject people should watch because the positions shift regularly.

Milk intake may affect blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Milk intake may affect blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Research has shown that babies with a genetic history of Type I diabetes may be more at risk for developing the condition if they drink formula with cow’s milk proteins. If families have a strong history of this, there are alternatives. Doctors advise that babies should drink breastmilk or formulas with soy. Those who have discussed this theory, such as the well-known pediatrician Dr. William Sears, don’t see introduction of milk after the second birthday as problematic for these children, and also point out that the incidence of Type I diabetes is extremely low, so this recommendation may only apply to a small segment of the population.

There is some evidence that cow’s milk proteins in baby formula may make infants or children more likely to develop Type I diabetes.
There is some evidence that cow’s milk proteins in baby formula may make infants or children more likely to develop Type I diabetes.

Another common claim about milk and diabetes is that milk intake may directly affect blood sugar levels in insulin dependent folk. This is true and a diet needs to be carefully planned. It isn’t that all diabetics must avoid milk, but the product has a high sugar content that will translate to elevated blood sugar. Diabetics should speak to nutritionists about the amount of milk or other dairy products they can consume.

Soy milk is a popular alternative to dairy milk.
Soy milk is a popular alternative to dairy milk.

There is also the contention that milk and diabetes, especially Type II, are not strongly connected and may be disassociated. Low or nonfat milk products are healthy foods with high protein and low calories. They can be a fantastic part of any diet to maintain weight or to shed it. Maintaining or losing weight may be a way to prevent diabetes Type II, so there are arguably benefits to milk.

Some studies have evaluated milk consumption in populations that consume little else, such as the Maasai tribes in Africa. Members of these tribes don’t develop diabetes. Researchers have theorized that the Maasai cattle have slightly different milk than European and American cattle, and they have found slight differentiations in the milk proteins. Whether the connection between milk and diabetes is solely due to protein is not evident, and there is evidence that genetic predisposition plays a role.

Ultimately, people must individually decide whether cow milk creates too great a risk for diabetes to be consumed. For most people this isn’t the case. Those who want to avoid cow milk could try goat milk or milks made from nuts, grains or soy as alternatives.

Some believe the fat in dairy can help maintain steady blood sugar levels.
Some believe the fat in dairy can help maintain steady blood sugar levels.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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