12th-century physician Moses Maimonides said milk caused ‘a stuffing in the head’. Now, experts reluctantly agree that it can worsen the effects of a common cold. Milk is an emulsion that gets stickier when it mixes with compounds in saliva.
For centuries, people have thought that drinking milk or eating dairy products when they have a cold worsens symptoms by increasing mucus in the nose and throat.
Yet, despite what the public believed, there was never anything in the way of scientific evidence to back it up. Mucus is produced by cells within the nose, sinuses and lungs, and consists of water, salt and proteins, which trap germs and dirt. Antibacterial enzymes in mucus help to kill germs and protect us from infection.
Mucus is moved towards the back of the throat from the nasal passage by microscopic hairs, called cilia, where it is swallowed. But too much mucus, usually triggered by infections or allergies, can mean it continually drips down the back of the throat (known as post
nasal drip). This excess can lead to a cough, sore throat and a husky voice.
But now, research has shown for the first time that drinking milk does appear to make symptoms worse - at least in patients who already have excessive mucus secretion.
Researchers behind the study say the findings, published in the journal Laryngoscope, came as a complete surprise, as they were expecting to debunk the age-old link between dairy and phlegm. A number of previous studies have suggested the link doesn’t exist. But the research results were the opposite of what was anticipated.