Is Milk Fat Making Us Sick?


A new study published in Nature offers an explanation for the rise in incidence among Americans of irritable bowel diseases (IBD), including colitis and Crohn’s disease. It points to the concentrated milk fat used in processed and confectionery foods, which might appear on ingredients labels as evaporated, condensed, dried or powdered milk.

As explained in a university press release, “Certain saturated fats that are common in the modern Western diet can initiate a chain of events leading to complex immune disorders such as inflammatory bowel diseases in people with a genetic predisposition.” The chain of events begins with the ingestion of milk fats. These fats “are particularly difficult to digest and require the liver to secrete a form of bile that is rich in sulfur,” which enables the microbe Bilophila wadsworthia to proliferate. The elevated presence of B. wadsworthia can induce inflammation in those who are predisposed to bowel diseases.

“This is the first plausible mechanism showing step by step how Western-style diets contribute to the rapid and ongoing increase in the incidence of inflammatory bowel disease,” study author Dr. Eugene Chang, a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, said. “We know how certain genetic differences can increase the risk for these diseases, but moving from elevated risk to the development of disease seems to require a second event that may be encountered because of our changing lifestyle,” he said.

Concentrated milk fat is “a certain saturated fat.” It is a processed one, to be exact, and its production involves separating and concentrating the fat from cream and placing it in a vacuum to remove almost all of the moisture using equipment like a “specialized phase inversion unit.” It is a product that stays stable at high temperatures, stores for a long time and, as one manufacturer of the product explains, “provides a consistency of composition that pure butter or cream cannot provide due to natural variation.”

In short, the milk fat fed to the mice by the University of Chicago researchers was not simply, say, a dab of butter or a dollop of cream, but rather a processed rendition of saturated fat that was created for the singular purpose of expediting the manufacture of a very wide variety of processed foods. Many natural properties and any “natural variation” of the kind one would find in real butter, fresh cream or, for that matter, any real and fresh food are a mere nuisance for food manufacturers.

One can easily see how news of this study might re-energize public opinion against saturated fat and whole-fat dairy products, but that’s not, in my opinion, the lesson to be learned here. For one thing, people have been enjoying milk and other dairy products for centuries without any known incidence of IBD at the rate it’s being diagnosed today. The difference here is that the milk fat is industrially processed. The problem is that our diets now include a vast and voluminous array of processed foods, foods to which our bodies are not yet entirely adapted.

Are processed milk fats causing IBD in some people? The evidence isn’t conclusive, and, besides, the study involved mice, not humans. Matching up individual industrial ingredients with individual ailments seems to me an impossible exercise. It makes more sense to lay off processed foods as a general rule and for best health.


Related Stories:

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What Exactly is the Weston A. Price Foundation, Anyway?


Photo Credit: Steve A Johnson


William C
William C1 years ago


W. C
W. C1 years ago

Thank you for the article.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

federico bortoletto
federico b6 years ago


Robert Miles
Robert Miles6 years ago

Grass-fed cattle are able to convert the ALA type of omega-3 they get from the grass into the DHA and EPA forms of omega-3. Humans are much less efficient at this conversion. This suggests that we need some research into whether unprocessed dairy fats contain significant amounts of DHA and EPA, and whether heavy processing destroys them (for example, partial hydrogenation destroys omega-3 in general).

Phillipa W.
Phillipa W6 years ago

no matter how much money they sink into studies to prove how "healthy" milk is, all they find out is how bad it is. Over here CSIRO (our national research company) spent over a decade and billions of dollars studying milk - paid for by the dairy corporations. The findings? A few antibodies that protect cancer, and a whole lot of reasons why NOT to touch any dairy at all. Funny thing is, there are a few health benefits of nicotine. But who says smoking's healthy? Yet there's just as much, if not more, which shows milk and animal calcium is just as bad, if not worse.

Alex H.
Alex H6 years ago

One of the greatest crimes of the last few decades is the fact that dairy corporations all over the planet have done such a wonderful job of convincing people that they need to eat dairy products to stay healthy.Nothing could be further from the truth.Gorillas and elephants are the strongest animals on the planet and they don't drink milk and they don't get osteoporosis!Humans lack an enzyme to digest lactose in cows'milk which incidentally is for baby calves! Scientific research has proven that drinking flavoured milks is one of the greatest causes of ulcerative colitis.Everyone should read Professor Jane Plant's book "Your life in your hands"which details her seven bouts of breast cancer,which finally stopped re-occurring once she gave up dairy products! Experts say that all dis-ease starts in the gut,and I think they are on to something!

Lauren B.


Heather Marvin
Heather Marv6 years ago

So often it is what they do to the milk and other products moreso than the product itself.

Nicola Pole
Erica S6 years ago

Still waiting for them to tell us that air causes cancer. Just drink coconut, almond, soya or skimmed milk. Never noticed a difference in taste when I switched to skimmed many years ago.