Milk does not produce excess mucous. That is a strange title for an entry in this blog, but it seems very appropriate to my personal situation today. I am suffering from a wicked headcold at the moment. A headlcold that may have been exacerbated by a high volume training cycle I completed on Sunday. ( and therefore relevant to cyclists, training and coaching) I have a slow nasal drip constantly coming out of my nose, and down the back of my throat, yet I my head and upper respiratory tract feel like they are holding so much pressure they are about to explode. Basically, my head is full of mucous. ( Doesn't that paint a pretty picture? I know some might say my head is full of something else) . I've heard from more than one person today, that I should stay away from milk and dairy, as it increases mucous production. My first instinct was: " I don't buy it" But that could be because I love cheese; swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, pepper jack cheese, gorgonzola cheese, I love the stuff. Cheese is one of the primary reasons I need to drop 10lbs before track season starts. (You can guess the other. It start with a B and end with an eer) The other reason for my skepticism is that I am not aware of any physiological mechanism wherein dairy products produce mucous, but I have been wrong before, so I decided to do a little research. The first article I found that came from a reliable source ( ie: journal article or similar) was this: Relationship between milk intake and mucus production in adult volunteers challenged with rhinovirus-2.
In this article, they gave people sinus infections, and then essentially measured their snot by weight, and measured their other symptoms ( such as cough). What the researchers found was "Milk and dairy product intake was not associated with an increase in upper or lower respiratory tract symptoms of congestion or nasal secretion weight." Basically: Milk does not make mucous. They also found what they called "A trend ... for cough, when present, to be loose with increasing milk and dairy product intake; however, this effect was not statistically significant" What this means is that basically they think there may have been a difference there, that milk may have made the cough more loose, but that the researchers did not have enough data or statistical power to prove it. To me, this seems like like a great reason TO enjoy dairy while you have a sinus infection. I would rather couch up some loose phlegm that comes up easily, rather than that thick stuff!
Then I found this: The Milk-Mucus Belief: Sensory Analysis Comparing Cow's Milk and a Soy Placebo.
In this study the researchers performed a double blind study, and gave subject either a milk , or soy milk beverage that was indistinguishable from the milk . Subjects reported increases in 3 of the mucous related variables when they drank the test beverage, but the effect was the same for both the milk, and the placebo soy beverage. The researchers "concluded that the effect measured is not specific to cow's milk, but can be duplicated by a non-cow's milk drink with similar sensory characteristics." Bascially, milk does not make mucous, but if you think it does, and if you think you are drinking milk, you may report more symptoms. I am going off of the abstract on this one, and I would like to read the whole article so I can see a bit more of their statistics and physiology, but I'm not willing to pay $41.95 for the privilege.
Those first two are from the 90s, and I found more from that time period, but this is the one that really sealed the deal: Milk Consumption Does Not Lead to Mucus Production or Occurrence of Asthm is a well written review article from 2005 with 49 references. These Swiss researchers carefully reviewed the literature and determined that recommendations to abstain from milk and dairy in order to avoid to increased mucous or asthma symptoms is not supported by research. They also report that people who believe "milk makes mucous" tend to report increased symptoms with milk consumption, while people that do not believe " milk makes mucous" do not report increased symptoms. This in itself means nothing, until they point out once again, that people who believe "milk makes mucous" are easily fooled by a placebo. The reviewers go on to say that avoidance of dairy products may lead to limited intake of certain nutrients, specifically calcium. This might not be a an issue for a cyclist suffering from a short term a headcold, but fact that I can still enjoy my cheese ravioli for dinner with no fear of extra snot buildup in my head gives me some comfort as I stay at home recovering ans itching to get back on my bike.
In 2003, I wrote about how milk is an excellent recovery drink: ( this is a very old version of my old coaching site)