Can Milk Make You Taller? Here's What the Science Says

Can milk make you taller? Here’s what the science says

We've all heard it time and time again from our parents, but does the age-old saying carry some validity? Check out what the experts are saying

YOU’VE SEEN THE ads: Milk helps build strong bones. Does that mean drinking milk can make you taller, too?

“Milk is a good source of several nutrients that support growth – including protein, calcium, zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin D. There’s also some evidence that drinking milk may help increase your levels of IGF-1 – a hormone that helps determine how tall you’ll be,” says Kim Yawitz, R.D., a registered dietitian and gym owner in St. Louis. “In theory, drinking milk during adolescence could help you come closer to your genetic height potential.”

We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but drinking more milk won’t help you grow taller as an adult. We explain below.

Can drinking milk make you taller?

You already know that drinking milk can help you build strong bones and muscles.

That’s because cow’s milk—yes, not almond milk or oat milk or soy milk—is naturally high in calcium, a nutrient that promotes bone density, and protein, which contributes to muscle growth. (One cup of milk contains 293 milligrams of calcium and about 8 grams of protein, for reference.)

But can milk actually make you taller?

It’s a statement that you might have heard when you were young and has maybe stuck with your through you adult years. Heck, maybe you even tell your own kids the same thing: “Drink milk and you’ll grow up tall and strong.”

Your parents didn’t just make this up out of nowhere. Scientists have actually studied this hypothesis. And dietitians do hear similar questions from their clients.

But just how strong is the link between drinking milk and height? We turned to Kelly Jones M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. for her wisdom.

“There are actually several published studies showing that, in children, drinking milk is associated with very small increases in height,” says Jones.

It is important to recognise, however, that these studies are showing a correlation and not a cause and effect relationship. And that just because a few research reports have found a positive association doesn’t mean that there’s proof milk can make you taller.

And, honestly, the research is mixed.

One 2018 study followed a group of participants from birth, through 17 years, and discovered that height increased by 0.39 centimetres per self-reported additional 8 ounces of milk consumed daily. Jones: “However, the authors also noted that the population was mostly of moderate income and reasonably well educated, which can mean results would not be similar in populations with worse access to food or knowledge of appropriate eating patterns.”

Plus, there are other factors that may influence the results. “In some of the studies showing a correlation between milk intake and height, other factors may not have been considered, such as overall diet quality, including adequate intake of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients,” she says.

Then there’s a 2019 systematic review, which stated that adding dairy products to person’s diet was associated with increased bone mineral content during childhood, but there was no correlation between dairy and height.

And then there’s a 2020 study published in the journal Nature that found that milk consumption was associated with increased weight-for-age and height-for-age in children and reduced the probabilities of being moderately or severely underweight or stunted—but also the effect was dependent upon geographic location and income level.

So, in short, it’s complicated.

“It may also be that those who do not drink milk are consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, which may impair bone health (with bone health being important for reaching appropriate peak height),” Jones says

Plus, all this research was done on children. So if you’re looking to gain height as an adult, you may have missed your window.

Should you still drink milk?

Yes, even if the research is mixed.

Milk still offers a ton of beneficial nutrients. Milk one of the few consistent sources of calcium, which we know is important for bone health.

“Additionally, many do not consume adequate fatty fish, one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, and milk can provide that as well,” she says.

Plus, milk protein is known to be very beneficial for muscle growth and repair, so, go ahead, enjoy it in your post-workout shake.

What are other health benefits of milk?

As long as you aren’t lactose intolerant, drinking milk may be a net positive for your health. Besides supporting strong bones and healthy muscles, here are a few more potential health perks of drinking milk.

Milk contains whey—a protein that helps prevent blood sugar spikes by signalling the pancreas to release more insulin,” says Yawitz. Studies suggest that drinking low-fat milk daily could help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 10 percent.

Milk is also a good source of magnesium and protein, two nutrients linked with a lower risk of depressive symptoms in adults. “In a recent study involving nearly 18,000 adults, those who drank the most milk were 39 percent less likely to experience depressive symptoms than those who drank little to no milk,” says Yawitz. (Of course, other unknown variables beyond drinking milk could have been at play in these findings.)

Also, per Yawitz, there may be some truth to those rumours that a glass of warm milk before bed will help you sleep better. “Milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that the body can use to make more melatonin,” she says. “The proteins in milk can also help you sleep more soundly by keeping your blood sugar levels stable overnight.”

This piece originally appeared on Men’s Health U.S.

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