Putting This in Your Coffee Could Reduce Inflammation, Says New Study

Taking your coffee just the way you like it could be setting your body up for a healthy day and lowered risk of disease.

It’s been demonstrated time and again that coffee is one of nature’s gifts that can help reduce inflammation. Coffee is chock-full of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found in plant foods that are known for reducing inflammatory markers and therefore possibly lowering your risk of disease. The research even proves it: A 2019 assessment of clinical trials found coffee to have anti-inflammatory effects, as well as a 2016 study that found coffee drinkers to have lower inflammatory markers compared with a group of non-coffee drinkers.

But what if you’re not crazy about black coffee? Turns out, a creamier cup may pour out big health benefits, too.

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What the study says

Even though milk has been found to be a lead food to cause inflammation, new research suggests dairy can, in fact, do the opposite. Specifically, a January 2023 study found that adding dairy to your cup of coffee may help reduce inflammation levels.

Published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark looked at how polyphenols (antioxidants) would behave in the body when mixed with certain amino acids. The combination of coffee and milk fit the bill, with coffee having polyphenols and milk being a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids.

The researchers realized that the polyphenols mixed with amino acids had a protective effect against inflammation found in immune cells. Inflammation occurs when the body is working to fight off bacteria, heal an injury, or, in some cases, reacting to the effects of an unhealthy diet. Over time, inflammation can be detrimental, which is why eating a healthy diet full of anti-inflammatory foods is key for reducing the risk of chronic disease. Now it seems drinking coffee with milk can actually help.

While this conclusion seems promising, researchers are still in the early stages of understanding how this combination can work for inflammation, hoping to expand their research to the effects on animals and humans.

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Why dairy doesn’t actually cause inflammation

This particular piece of news might come as a shock for some—especially when dairy has been previously believed to cause inflammation. Nevertheless, even though health gurus online say that dairy is a perpetrator of inflammation in the body, the science begs to differ.

Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook, says she promotes the benefits of dairy to her clients. Not only can dairy milk be intensely hydrating, but it’s also a powerful source of protein and other essential nutrients. Goodson says she’s particularly passionate about debunking previous myths surrounding dairy—like how it causes inflammation.

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“To my knowledge, there is no clinical data that shows dairy consumption increases chronic inflammation, rather it is a myth that continues to get perpetuated,” she says. “In fact, the collective evidence consistently shows that the opposite is true: Eating dairy foods as part of a nutrient-rich, balanced diet is not linked to chronic inflammation and actually may reduce inflammation.”

Goodson points to multiple studies confirming this claim, including a 2020 systematic review published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition that evaluated 27 randomized control trials and found that dairy products and dairy proteins have neutral to beneficial effects on inflammation, instead of causing it.

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How the combination of coffee and dairy benefits inflammation

So why does the combination of milk and coffee help with inflammation? Some experts steeped in nutrition research suggest this particular study doesn’t exactly come as a shock, given that both drinks have been proven to reduce inflammation in the first place.

Goodson explains: “A study in the Journal of Nutrition in 2019 listed foods with anti-inflammatory effects based on their ability to reduce inflammatory biomarkers and dairy foods (at a variety of fat levels of milk, cheese, and yogurt) as well as coffee and tea were on the list—as well as other foods you’d think would make this list, like nuts, tomatoes, apples, berries, fish legumes, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and other fruits and vegetables.”

Needless to say, with lots of research to back up how these two drinks can benefit the body’s inflammatory response, it seems only right to order that latte, or an Americano with a splash of milk.

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more.