Dairy and ear infections: is there an association?

Hi doc. Any research studies on dairy consumption and ear infections in children. My friend’s child had numerous ear infections and I recommended soy milk instead of cows milk plus to eliminate cheese, ice cream, etc. She asked a chief pediatric ENT at a big hospital who of course said there is no connection. Of course, if there were he wouldn’t make as much money so I’m sure he wouldn’t push that subject to anybody. This child incidentally was on numerous rounds of antibiotics and may have tubes inserted in her ears. I thought she should give it a try. Thanks Eric.

Ericjay / Originally asked on the NutritionFacts.org facebook page


The association between cow milk exposure and recurrent ear infections in susceptible children has been documented for 50 years. Though there are rare cases of pathogens in milk causing ear infections directly (then meningitis), the link is thought to be due to milk allergies. In fact there’s a respiratory disease called Heiner Syndrome, a lung disease of infants primarily caused by milk consumption that can cause ear infections.

Though milk allergy most often results in respiratory, gastrointestinal, and skin symptoms, as many as 1 in 500 may suffer speech delay due to chronic inner ear inflammation. For 40 years there’s been a recommendation to try “a 3 month trial on a strict cow’s milk elimination diet” for children with recurrent ear infections, but Dr. Benjamin Spock, probably the most respected pediatrician of all time, ended up recommending a life-long elimination of cow’s milk. See my video: Doctors’ Nutritional Ignorance.

Image credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery / Flickr

  • Carissa

    I am 26 years old and still getting ear infections. When I was younger I had tubes put in multiple times and my ear drums have ruptured several times due to infection. I do not drink cows milk. I have been drinking almond milk for years. Is there anything else I can do to prevent infection? Should I cut dairy out all together?

    • Dairy is dairy Carissa, whether is comes from milk or cheese.

    • fineartmarcella

      I had the same Carissa, after years of fighting with antibiotics off and on as an adult, one instance I even became allergy to one of the antibiotics because they kept putting me on it, I changed docs… An ear specialist then told me to use hydrogen peroxide when ever I get a ‘hint’ that an infection is coming. I do and gratefully I haven’t had an actual full blown ear infection for 10 years. I put a cap full in my ear with my head resting on the sink, wait until it is done bubbling, then turn my head and let it drain, I think have a blue bulb syringe with warm water waiting to wash it out. I was told by an allergy doctor that alot of times there is ‘dampness’ created in the ear due to allergies, this dampness gets the fungus or bacteria growing. He advised to avoid environmental allergens, I didn’t really know I had one but put an air cleaner in my bedroom anyway and it has helped tremendously!

    • fineartmarcella

      Yes, and cut out the dairy, it is a major allergen

    • Dr Billy DeMoss

      have you tryed chiropracTIC?

    • Jenn

      I’m allergic to milk. Which basically means I’m allergic to whey. You will be shocked to discover what all whey is added to. And yes, dairy should be cut out and only ingested moderately on special occasions, and depending on other allergies and current tolerance level you may regret, you may not. I have no trouble with raw milk. I honestly believe it’s the pasteurization process that does something. But anything with whey, sends me over the cliff. Also, you may have other food allergies that are contributing as well. I have chronic allergies and foods that I have to avoid and moderate strictly are dairy, whey, corn, wheat, yeast, talc, msg, corn syrup, strawberries, apples… So pretty much anything processed! But, I have learned to listen to my body. Itchy ears, wet ears, too dry ears, tingly tongue, all these are signs and I stay flushing with water and watch food intake and I use an allergy ear drop. Depending, I may swig a little benadryl before bed just to help everything calm down.

    • dmoneytrue

      Cut out Dairy.

  • Rain

    I would say that dairy is dairy and yes you better quit it all, at least for a trial period (for 1-2 months for ex)

  • Hi Dr Greger, I am a nutritionist and love your website but I am having trouble articulating what the epidemiological evidence is AGAINST dairy. I understand that saturated animal fat is bad, I understand that allergies are prevalent in some populations and that it contributes to IBS. I know that osteoporosis is the same in vegan and non vegan populations. What I cant explain is why nonfat milk and yoghurt is an unhealthy choice for people who do not have any allergies or intolerances. Can you also please direct me to some papers- I have had lots of trouble researching this myself as finding and independent author is very difficult. KInd regards, and many thanks for your wonderful site.


    • Toxins

      Hello Mel, it is good to see that a nutritionist such as yourself is trying to advocate a plant based diet. I applaud you as we need much more people like you out there. Now to your primary question

      Dairy is a rich source of xenoestrogens


      and can elevate igf-1 levels due to consuming high protein animal foods


      for these reasons it is strongly advised by Dr. Greger and others who follow the research to avoid dairy. If you click on the “sources cited” section you will find the papers you are looking for.

    • Photo gal

      Watch the movie fork over knives.

    • catbear

      Try reading The China Study

      • Toxins

        Here is a write up on dairy

        A review published in the Journal of Pediatrics focused on the benefits of dairy “the findings of epidemiologic and prospective studies have raised questions about the efficacy of the use of dairy products for the promotion of bone health. ” after a review of the existing literature and finding “A positive relationship between dairy product consumption and measures of bone health in children or young adults was reported in 1 of 4 cross-sectional studies; in 0 of 3 retrospective studies; in 0 of 1 prospective study; and in 2 of 3 randomized, controlled trials. Only 1 of these randomized clinical trials adequately controlled for vitamin D intake, and it showed no significant effect of dairy products on BMD [bone mineral density]” , they concluded, “Scant evidence supports nutrition guidelines focused specifically on increasing milk or other dairy product intake for promoting child and adolescent bone mineralization.”


        A meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal found, “The small effect of calcium supplementation on bone mineral density in the upper limb is unlikely to reduce the risk of fracture, either in childhood or later life, to a degree of major public health importance.”and “The authors concluded that the literature did not support recommendations for consumption of dairy products for bone health end points in children and young adults…Our quantitative systematic review confirms this conclusion” The authors also state, “Our results also do not support the premise that any type of calcium supplementation is more effective than another.” Even studies that used intakes of 1400 mg per day of calcium showed no benefit.


        An editorial accompanying this meta-analysis pointed out, “Populations that consume the most cow’s milk and other dairy products have among the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fracture in later life. Given this fact, it is important to ask whether sufficient evidence exists to continue assuming that consumption of these foods is part of the solution.” They concluded “It is time to revise our calcium recommendations for young people and change our assumptions about the role of calcium, milk, and other dairy products in the bone health of children and adolescents. While the policy experts work on revising recommendations, doctors and other health professionals should encourage children to spend time in active play or sports, and to consume a nutritious diet built from whole foods from plant sources to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and provide an environment conducive to building strong bones.”


        A review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of the research on the effects of dairy products on bone health found 57 studies, and of these, 21 studies were considered to have stronger-evidence, worthy of inclusion in this review. “Of 21 stronger-evidence studies, 57% were not significant, 29% were favorable, and 14% were unfavorable.” Keep in mind that the majority of these studies were funded by the dairy industry, and even with this natural bias and influence to produce positive outcomes, no better than 29% of the studies were favorable to bone health. One of the studies that showed unfavorable results that was funded by the dairy industry showed some shocking outcomes. The findings showed post menopause subjects who received the extra milk (three 8 ounce glasses of skimmed milk daily) for a yearlost more bone than those who didn’t drink the extra milk. The authors wrote, “The protein content of the milk supplement may have a negative effect on calcium balance, possibly through an increase in kidney losses of calcium or through a direct effect on bone resorption…this may have been due to the average 30 percent increase in protein intake during milk supplementation.” Skim milk is very high in protein so this is unavoidable unless one is to consume the very fatty whole milk in which 2-5% of the fat content is trans fat and is very high in saturated fat.



        Its evidence such as this that I am unconvinced calcium should be from cows milk. Long term studies on vegan bone density comparing the omnivores diet showed the same bone density “…although vegans have much lower intakes of dietary calcium and protein than omnivores, veganism does not have an adverse effect on bone mineral density and does not alter body composition.” The vegan participants had been on a vegan diet an average of 33 years.


        I find it interesting that modern society believes that the human species is dependent on the milk of another animal species. The primary biologic purpose of cow’s milk is to grow a 60 pound calf to a 600 pound cow in less than 8 months. This is no way natural to humans, as cow’s milk has high concentrations of protein, potassium, sodium, calcium, and other nutrients to sustain rapid growth. In comparison, these nutrients are at a three to four times lower concentration in human milk than cow’s milk. Milk is used to promote growth, so how is this natural as human adults to be consuming milk, let alone another species of animals milk? Dairy products promote the secretion of insulin like growth factor. This spike in IGF-1 is the most likely source of positive bone growth in the studies showing favorable outcomes of dairy on bones, not necessarily the calcium. Elevated IGF-1 does more harm than good in adults, it promotes tumor growth in breast, prostate, lung, and colon cells and accelerates the aging process.



        The consumption of dairy in children has resulted in earlier puberty. “The effect of animal protein intake, which was associated with an earlier puberty onset, might mainly be due to dairy. “An earlier puberty onset has been related to an increased risk for hormone-related cancers in adulthood. For example, a meta-analysis of 26 epidemiological studies reported a9% risk reduction for breast cancer with every additional year at menarche. Additionally, recent study results demonstrated that a 1-y delay in menarche was associated with a 2.4 to 4.5% lower total mortality.


        The concern with dairy and hormone dependent cancer is something to think about as well. It has been shown that consuming dairy significantly increases circulating steroid hormones in woman and that vegetarians have far less of this hormone. “In conclusion, greater consumption of red meat and dairy products might influence circulating concentrations of SHBG and estradiol, respectively. Given the well-established role of steroid hormones in breast cancer etiology for postmenopausal women, these findings may have important health implications” Tumor growth from these hormone imbalances is also evident “A dramatic increase in estrogen-dependent malignant diseases, such as ovarian, corpus uteri, breast, testicular and prostate cancers has been recognized. Ganmaa et al. investigated the incidence and mortality of testicular and prostate cancers in relation to dietary practices. Among various food items, cow’s milk and cheese had the highest correlation with incidence and mortality rate of these cancers” Children are at high risk “Among the exposure of humans, especially prepubertal children, to exogenous estrogens, we are particularly concerned with” These xenoestrogens from lactating preganant cattle (the majority of commercial cattle used for milk) significantly raised estrogen levels in male adults and reduced testosterone levels and did even more so in children. This is significant since these estrogens have mutagenic affects “Toxicological and epidemiological studies have indicated that E2 could be categorized as a carcinogen. Milk is considered to be a rich source of estrogens.” Indeed, E2 concentration is higher in mammary drainage than in the peripheral circulation in high yielding cows.”


    • Toxins

      Please see my comment below this one in accidental response to catbear

    • Leo S.

      You might find the following video informative. You can see four other videos if you click on Category: Life at its Best in the box to the right. thttp://amazingdiscoveries.tv/media/169/304-232K/

  • Dairy is not the only substance that causes ear infections. Ear infections are caused by what are known as mucus forming foods. That is a bit of a misnomer because the foods themselves become the mucus as part of the digestive process. The other major culprit is flour products. In kindergarten we all learned to make paste from flour and water. Any grain will do. Paste made from dairy, flour, rice, soy or red meat is still paste or glue. Once in the body, they slime it up right to the cellular level. One of the places it ends up is in the middle ear where it can build up and fill the mastoid and the inner ear canal. If left too long, infection sets in and eventually the infection dissolves the skull between the middle ear and the brain. Then the brain fluid leaks into the middle ear and then you have meningitis and life may no longer be worth living. Non-mucus forming foods are vegetables and fruit, not including potatoes.

    Dr. Gregor has stated that medical authorities have known about the link between dairy and ear infections for fifty ears but the reality is that I found a chapter devoted to this in an American Medical textbook at a fleamarket. That book was published in 1938. So as of this writing the medical community has been on record as knowing about this for ninety five years.

    What the chapter I read was discussing was that the incidence of ear infections has jumped since the introduction of pasteurization.

    What that really means is that after pasteurization, the milk people were drinking was dead milk as opposed to live milk. Live milk is not mucus forming and is digested more completely than pasteurized milk.

    Modern humans have existed for 200,000 years. We didn’t start eating grain on a regular basis until about 12,000 years ago and 9,000 years for dairy.

    What that tells you is that our bodies have not yet evolved sufficiently to digest those materials properly. Some people can, most can’t even though they don’t know they can’t.

    Archaeologists have determined that after the inclusion of grain in the human diet, life expectancy went down, people were shorter and sicker.

    My own research on the internet shows that after pasteurization of milk products, life expectancy went up but all high dairy populations have gotten magnificently sicker with a far wider range of illnesses than ever before. The life expectancies in modern times have not been reduced due to other factors. If nothing else had changed – such as medical care, refrigeration, dental care, transportation and safer living circumstances, lives would certainly have shortened.

    At this point, humans while having become the only species to develop great medical care have become the sickest species by far on the entire planet due to dairy and flour product consumption.

    Dogs and cats now get the same diseases we do because we feed them foods high in dairy and grain products.

    Osteoporosis is highest in countries with high dairy consumption. End of story.

    Fat is an important energy source. Fat is not bad if you burn what you eat. But today most people do less that one eighth the amount of exercise their forebears did. So instead of burning fat we accumulate it.

    What has not been considered here is the role of constipation in how the body handles dairy, flour, meat and sugar. Not well.

    Dairy causes constipation as do refined flour and meat because there is no fibre and because of the adhesive properties of dairy and flour. Mix all of those things together in the small intestine and you have a recipe for clogging up the plumbing in your body from head to toe. That over time causes blockages in every organ and cell you have. I call it systemic constipation. Doctors don’t call it anything because they’ve never heard or thought of the concept.

    Whatever gets clogged first, that creates symptoms. Now you or your children have an ear infection and that is what it’s called, not systemic constipation. You can apply that concept to any degenerative disease known to man and be correct.

  • Han

    Asking the main beneficiary of your problem for an alternative solution to the one he is offering is rather silly of course. I wonder if you can sue him for giving bad advice.

  • Martín

    Hi everybody. I was wondering if somebody can help me with Autoinmune inner ear disease recently diagnosed to me… since last year, may. I have some noises in my left ear. Annoying. And the right one seems to be congested. Some solution to this.
    I will appreciate some comment or solution

  • Annetha

    Dr. Greger: “as many as 1 in 500 may suffer speech delay due to chronic inner ear inflammation”

    Speech impairment due to intermittent ear infection can now be be addressed. My oldest son’s time to process sound such as “buh” decreased from 490 ms to normal (10 ms), but it took an intensive, expensive 4-month intervention. Worth every minute and penny, IMHO, to speed his processing of sound so he could develop normal language patterns! (My children spent early years in overseas orphanage where they had insufficient exposure to adult speech, but most/many kids have impaired auditory processing due to intermittent ear infection.)

    The original research:
    Michael M. Merzenich, William M. Jenkins, Paul Johnston, Christoph
    Schreiner, Steven L. Miller, and Paula Tallal. Temporal Processing
    Deficits of Language-Learning Impaired Children Ameliorated by Training.
    Science 5 January 1996 271: 77-81 [DOI: 10.1126/science.271.5245.77]

    Version 2 of the program is described here:
    http://www.scilearn.com/products/fast-forword/language-series/language .

    You may have heard of Merzenich’s brain plasticity research: my understanding is that there is no upper age limit for training brain to process sound at normal speed.

  • Dr. Greger, I find no references to tinnitus throughout your work here. Is tinnitus something that can be alleviated nutritionally? I am closer to hypotensive than hypertensive, and damaged the aural system with loud music and gunfire in my youth/young adulthood. I now protect them at every opportunity with the best earplugs I have found.

    • Joseph Gonzales R.D.

      Hi Wade. You’e right, nothing on tinnitus. I searched and found some research that looks into diet, here. It claimed many patients with tinnitus demonstrated abnormalities that could be addressed by dietary management, but of course only a few were followed. Perhaps not enough research to know for sure, but there seems to be a connection with metabolic disorders. Women who went on a lower calorie diet seemed to experience improvements with ear pressure. I would suggest a healthful diet to help prevent or avoid developing diseases like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and other common cardiovascular risk factors (high cholesterol, high triglycerides). That could be helpful. Gosh I hope that helps a bit. Good luck I hope you find some relief. Let me know if I can dig further.

  • dmoneytrue

    I go through mad amounts of Q-tips when I give into the dairy….