Chances are, you had a mom/doctor/teacher who told you that milk is good for your bones and your health because it's a good source of calcium, vitamin D, and protein, and can prevent osteoporosis. Even the US government recommends three cups of dairy per day for adult women, according to ChooseMyPlate.gov. So you probably never questioned whether it's smart to drink milk.
But now, new research published in the medical journal BMJ suggests that straight-up cow's milk might not be so great for you, after all. When researchers from Sweden looked at 61,433 women's food frequency questionnaires and health records over an average of 20 years, they found that women who consumed three or more glasses of milk per day were more likely to suffer bone fractures and more likely to die during the study, which is exactly the opposite of what you might have guessed from all those Got Milk? ads featuring the world's most healthy-seeming humans. Meanwhile, women who laid off milk and ate more yogurt or cheese were actually less likely to die or have bone issues; every serving of cheese and yogurt appeared to reduce the risk of bone fracture and death during the study by upwards of 15 percent.
Researchers guess this could be because, unlike yogurt and cheese, unfermented dairy products like milk contain an ominous ingredient called D-galactose. If animal studies about D-galactose apply to humans, people who drink just one to two glasses of milk per day could face premature aging in the body and bones, and internal inflammation, which can provoke a whole bunch of health issues, from cancer to heart disease. But that's a huge "if."
See, observational studies like this new one don't prove cause and effect at all—they just identify potential associations between behaviors and health outcomes. In other words, don't freak out and pour the milk in your fridge down the drain just yet.
The bottom line: Until more research is done, researchers can't say whether drinking milk regularly will make you break a hip or die young or anything—or that yogurt and cheese will definitely do a better job protecting your bones and body. It's just too soon to make any major dietary changes.
If you're worried though, it can't hurt to swap cow's milk for yogurt in cereal, dunk your cookies in soy milk, or splash almond milk in your coffee. It's all good.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.