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View Full Version : Singing and dairy: science or nonsense


Professor Yaffle
22nd May 2007, 02:14 AM
I have been a member of a number of choirs and singing groups over the years, and choir leaders/singing teachers have often mentioned that we shouldn't eat much dairy produce as it thickens the mucus and affects our voice. I was wondering if this has any evidence to back it up, or if it is just one of those myths that crops up in these areas and is repeated so often that it is regarded as truth.

I did a bit of googling, and the only mentions of it I could find were on singing advice sites, with no links to any evidence, or on dodgy woo diet sites where mucus forming foods tend to be mentioned in the same vicinity as acid forming foods - which I know to be dodgy nonsense.

So is there anyone who has the low down on this? Is it just nonsense, or does it have some physiological mechanism/published evidence behind it. I'm not going to bother tackling the choir leader about it, as the one I am currently with is a bit woo, and notions of evidence are beyond her. I just want to know for my own piece of mind and to know whether I really might be affecting my vocal quality by my cheese munching. I had milk protein intolerance as a child, so have always ate loads of cheese to make up for my lack of milk drinking.

TobiasTheViking
22nd May 2007, 02:27 AM
i never heard that in my choir....

Tanja
22nd May 2007, 02:49 AM
I never heard that in my choirs either.

In Croatia, the old folk "medicine" to improve your voice before a concert is to eat a raw egg. i could never bear to do that, because I find raw eggs disgusting. I remember also someone recommending drinking sage tea.

In my previous choir, the only thing we had to abstain from before a concert is alcohol. In my current choir, the conductor does not mind if we have a drink before the concert as it increases confidence. He also reminds us to be well hydrated.

Professor Yaffle
22nd May 2007, 03:06 AM
Maybe I just have more wooish choir leaders because i have mainly been in folk and community choirs where woo is very prevalent? But I have definitely found references to this advice on websites about singing too, as a google search will show:

http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rls=ADBS,ADBS:2006-32,ADBS:en&q=singing+dairy

Cuddles
22nd May 2007, 03:10 AM
Well, my parents, sister and many of their friends have been in choirs and that's not one I've ever heard. And since my father is an ENT sugeon it's the sort of thing you'd expect him to know about.

Tanja
22nd May 2007, 03:12 AM
By the way, my favourite thing to have before a concert are canned peaches in light syrup. I find them very soothing for the throat.

Professor Yaffle
22nd May 2007, 03:21 AM
Just managed to answer my own question:

http://nationalasthma.org.au/HTML/about/pdf/2006_dairy_aus20_02.pdf

I am very surprised that other singers have never come across this advice, considering how often I have heard it. Mind you, one of the choirs was in hebden bridge which is the british capital of woo...

Rolfe
22nd May 2007, 05:39 AM
I've been in quite a lot of choirs over the years, including the BBC Symphony Chorus for nine years, and I never heard of such a thing. Also, my mother is a professional opera singer (or was, she retired a long time ago), and I've never heard her mention anything like that.

Rolfe.

aggle-rithm
22nd May 2007, 05:50 AM
Just managed to answer my own question:

http://nationalasthma.org.au/HTML/about/pdf/2006_dairy_aus20_02.pdf

I am very surprised that other singers have never come across this advice, considering how often I have heard it. Mind you, one of the choirs was in hebden bridge which is the british capital of woo...

I've heard it, too, all through high school choir. I had heard that it "coats the throat", which didn't make much sense to me.

fls
22nd May 2007, 06:13 AM
Just to throw in my two cents....

I also heard this in the various choirs I have been a part of (all university based, US and Canada), although mostly from other choirmembers, rather than the directors.

My routine was to suck on a Halls beforehand, but I did recognize the effect may have been psychological rather than actual.

Linda

Tanja
22nd May 2007, 06:17 AM
This is probably a good thread to ask: and London based tenors or bases who would like to join a choir? My choir has about 100 female members, and only about 40 male members, and we could always do with more.
Common, all you UK lurkers, let me know.

Lisa Simpson
22nd May 2007, 06:25 AM
I heard that one from my mom (who is a voice teacher). However, my mom believes in all kinds of woo. Two weeks ago, my niece was performing as Miss Hannigan in a production of "Annie". Four days before the first show, she came down with a cold and my mom suggested she try Throat Coat. It's glycerin with a bunch of herbs thrown in. I suggested to my mom that maybe it's the glycerin that's doing the job and a swig of honey or corn syrup would be equally effective and that maybe you shouldn't give herbs to a child who has severe asthma and is on thyroid medicine. She gave me the old "herbs are safe" response. :rolleyes:

Basilio
22nd May 2007, 07:14 AM
Well, as a singer I've heard it and have experienced a slight up-tick in mucus production if I drink milk an hour or so before I sing. I think, though, that most singers are on nervous overdrive (like me) an hour or so before performance and generally don't drink or eat, save water. I amazed one Mezzo by eating a cheeseburger during my break at the top of act 3 of Fledermaus, then trotted up just off stage to sing a snatch of "la donna mobile" and then walk back to chat with her. Her look and "how the hell can you do that" was worth it.
Don't even get me started on other singer's old wives tales!

Basilio

Pipirr
22nd May 2007, 07:59 AM
I heard this when I used to sing in a choir. The choirmaster recommended drinking hot water.

About fifteen years ago, my GP told me that dairy products may exacerbate asthma by increasing mucus production. If that's true, the two may be related somehow.

NobbyNobbs
22nd May 2007, 08:02 AM
Anytime I have a cold (or now that I have kids, when they have colds), we've always stayed away from dairy during the course of the cold because I've been taught that it exacerbates the phlegm problem. It never occurred to me that it might be woo.

Professor Yaffle
22nd May 2007, 08:16 AM
I heard this when I used to sing in a choir. The choirmaster recommended drinking hot water.

About fifteen years ago, my GP told me that dairy products may exacerbate asthma by increasing mucus production. If that's true, the two may be related somehow.

Anytime I have a cold (or now that I have kids, when they have colds), we've always stayed away from dairy during the course of the cold because I've been taught that it exacerbates the phlegm problem. It never occurred to me that it might be woo.

The link I found and posted above suggests that there is no evidence that dairy worsens athma or exacerbates phlegm, but I haven't yet read the article they got the info from.

Professor Yaffle
22nd May 2007, 08:25 AM
This just goes to show that you should google a bit harder before posting a question, otherwise you just end up answering it yourself...

http://www.jacn.org/cgi/content/abstract/24/suppl_6/547S


There is a belief among some members of the public that the consumption of milk and dairy products increases the production of mucus in the respiratory system. Therefore, some who believe in this effect renounce drinking milk. According to Australian studies, subjects perceived some parameters of mucus production to change after consumption of milk and soy-based beverages, but these effects were not specific to cows’ milk because the soy-based milk drink with similar sensory characteristics produced the same changes. In individuals inoculated with the common cold virus, milk intake was not associated with increased nasal secretions, symptoms of cough, nose symptoms or congestion. Nevertheless, individuals who believe in the mucus and milk theory report more respiratory symptoms after drinking milk. In some types of alternative medicine, people with bronchial asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease of the lower respiratory tract, are advised not to eat so-called mucus-forming foods, especially all kinds of dairy products. According to different investigations the consumption of milk does not seem to exacerbate the symptoms of asthma and a relationship between milk consumption and the occurrence of asthma cannot be established. However, there are a few cases documented in which people with a cow’s milk allergy presented with asthma-like symptoms.


http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=8452378&dopt=Citation

A questionnaire designed to measure the "milk mucus effect" was based on sensations and symptoms after drinking milk reported in interviews with 169 individuals, 70 of whom held the belief that milk produces mucus. This was used to measure responses in a randomized, double-blind trial of a flavoured UHT cow's milk drink, compared with a similarly flavoured and constituted UHT soy milk drink. The soy placebo was indistinguishable from cow's milk in a pretest of 185 individuals. Of 14 milk-mucus effect indicator variables, three showed significant increases after consumption of 300 ml of the test drink. These were "coating/lining over the mouth, throat or tongue" (39% increase), "need to swallow a lot" (31% increase) and "saliva thicker, harder to swallow than before" (42% increase). However, these increases occurred in both milk and placebo groups. It is concluded that the effect measured is not specific to cow's milk, but can be duplicated by a non-cow's milk drink with similar sensory characteristics.

http://thorax.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/58/7/567



Results: The prevalence of recent asthma at age 3 was lower in children who consumed (at age 2) full cream milk daily (3.4%) than in those who did not (5.6%) and in those who consumed butter daily (1.5%) than in those who did not (5.1%). The prevalence of recent wheeze was lower in children who consumed milk products daily (13.7%) than in those who did not (18.4%) and in children who consumed butter daily (7.7%) than in those who did not (15.4%). These effects remained in a logistic regression model including different foods and confounders (adjusted odds ratio (CI) for recent asthma: full cream milk daily v rarely 0.59 (0.40 to 0.88), butter daily v rarely 0.28 (0.09 to 0.88)). Daily consumption of brown bread was also associated with lower rates of asthma and wheeze, whereas no associations were observed with the consumption of fruits, vegetables, margarine, and fish. Conclusions: In pre-school children, frequent consumption of products containing milk fat is associated with a reduced risk of asthma symptoms.

Pipirr
22nd May 2007, 08:31 AM
The link I found and posted above suggests that there is no evidence that dairy worsens athma or exacerbates phlegm, but I haven't yet read the article they got the info from.

Right. And I should have added that it hasn't been my experience, and I haven't heard anything more about it since then. It may be just a persistent myth.

And from the links you posted, looks to be some placebo effect there too. I should have believed my GP about dairy, then I would have wheezed more....

Lisa Simpson
22nd May 2007, 08:43 AM
Okay...here's a related one -

My son was told not to drink Coke (or presumably any carbonated beverage) before playing a wind instrument as it will damage the instrument. Anyone else heard this one?

tsg
22nd May 2007, 10:34 AM
Okay...here's a related one -

My son was told not to drink Coke (or presumably any carbonated beverage) before playing a wind instrument as it will damage the instrument. Anyone else heard this one?

I played a few wind instruments in high school and never heard that one. Although some might argue that me playing it was more damaging to the instrument than Coke would ever be....

I am at a loss why Coke or carbonated beverages would harm an instrument, though.

Professor Yaffle
22nd May 2007, 10:40 AM
Acidic spit? :confused:

Miss Anthrope
22nd May 2007, 11:05 AM
I am a trained opera singer, musical theater singer and in a chorale. I see all manner of woo and myth and ritual going on with singers and voice teachers. I used to buy into the dairy thing, but I did my own tinkering and found that the phlegm was more related to my seasonal allergies than anything else. While I see all kinds of little superstitious habits getting practiced before a performance, basically I stick to my own ritual of 1 or 2 hot toddies before I sing. I get the tea, lemon and honey to superficially make the throat feel good (I don't buy into a lot of claims about the miracle powers of this, either)......but more importantly the two shots of warm whiskey that eases the nerves and allows me cut loose and sing better!

ktesibios
22nd May 2007, 11:21 AM
Okay...here's a related one -

My son was told not to drink Coke (or presumably any carbonated beverage) before playing a wind instrument as it will damage the instrument. Anyone else heard this one?

How you could transfer enough Coke to the instrument by drinking it before playing mystifies me.

However, Coca-cola is the second* most corrosive substance I've ever seen spilled into a piece of electronic equipment. If it stays on a PC board or component leads for any length of time the copper traces or wires will be covered in green crud. I'd muchrather deal with the aftermath of a coffee spill than a Coke spill.

*the most corrosive substance I've seen get into electronics was the time one of my cats peed on my answering machine. I opened it up, took one look at the damage to the main PC board and gave up on the idea of fixing it.

Professor Yaffle
22nd May 2007, 11:25 AM
I find honey helps my throat feel relaxed too and therefore helps my singing, but I am sure a large part of this is psychological. I also swear by Vocalzones (even though i think they taste absolutely vile) for an emergency quick fix if my voice is a little bit ropey through overuse and I need a bit of help to get me through a performance (after which I give it a nice long rest!)

tkingdoll
22nd May 2007, 12:04 PM
Dammit, I was going to post loads of links and you've already found them!

As a singer and ex-asthmatic, I too fell prey to the fallacy that drinking milk creates phlegm. However...with me, it definitely does (or something does, anyway). Milk makes a thickening sensation in the back of my throat, and I almost never drink it because of this.

But I'd read the research showing it fallacious, and decided to try again. It definitely creates a phlegmy thickness in my throat. No idea what that could be the result of. Psychsomia, maybe, or lactose intolerance?

Anyway, I avoid dairy before a singing gig because why take the chance? Honey and lemon all the way.

Thought: could it be that it's the temperature of the milk? I refuse to drink milk if it's anything but very, very cold, so maybe the coldness is causing my throat to constrict? That would also explain the asthma association.

Lynx2174
22nd May 2007, 06:47 PM
Hm, I'll never be caught singing, let alone in a choior, but anecdotally, my throat always feels all mucous-y after I drink milk. I never get that from cheeses or yougurts though, only milk. I don't drink milk very often.

EDIT: in refrence to the previous post,

I've never had asthma, or any real respiratory illness save minor pnumonia.

I also only drink milk when it's really cold.

jon
22nd May 2007, 07:41 PM
teek - one explanation (http://www.jacn.org/cgi/content/abstract/24/suppl_6/547S) I've heard is that the "sensory characteristics" of milk might create the feeling of mucus. In order words the mouthfeel of milk can make you feel kind-of blocked up.

Does drinking skimmed milk (with a different mouthfeel to full fat) also have the same effect? And does drinking full-fat soy milk - ugh - also have this effect? (obviously, if you think you might have a really bad reaction to milk, don't drink some just to test this ;) )

Professor Yaffle
23rd May 2007, 01:26 AM
Just to add, I don't drink much milk at all, as I had a milk protein intolerance as a child, and therefore never developed a taste for it and I think I still have a slight intolerance - if I have more than a mouthful or so I get an itchy throat/roof of the mouth. I think I can actually taste the protein that I am intolerant too. Normal milk has a certain taste to it that I just don't like, whereas goat's milk (which doesn't seem to trigger my kids who have the same intolerance) tastes just fine.

Mattfn
23rd May 2007, 01:44 PM
Former singer, with asthma, weighing in that for most normal people, the milk, dairy thing is bunk.

I think we're on the right track surmising that the coldness, and thickness of the milk might give asthma sufferers the sensation of a problem. I'd like to add that cold can tighten up mucus that is already there, creating a problem that didn't exist before the drinking of it, and that cheese or other thicker dairy is stealing moisture out of the throat, creating issues that way. All these things are solved by being well hydrated....."pee pale, sing clear" as the saying goes. I ate & drank anything & everything, as long as there was enough time to digest. I was the one chugging the Coke and wolfing down the sandwich before going onstage too.

In the opposite camp, when I was attempting to get back singing, I HAD to have dairy, or chocolate or something that would coat my throat in order to try singing at all. I had tootsie rolls, chocolate, candies in my mouth all the time to try and calm the inflamation. It worked somewhat, until other factors made the point moot.

As for the soda & brass instruments.....well, the spit that gets in those things just sits and sits there. If enough gets in, it has plenty of time to work. Ever since one of my molar baby teeth was disolved in a cup of Coke inside 6-8 days in 5th grade, and Mythbusters confirmed it can clean pennies and chrome with very little exposure, you won't find me underestimating what damage soda can do over time.

jon
24th May 2007, 06:20 AM
Just to add, I don't drink much milk at all, as I had a milk protein intolerance as a child, and therefore never developed a taste for it and I think I still have a slight intolerance - if I have more than a mouthful or so I get an itchy throat/roof of the mouth. I think I can actually taste the protein that I am intolerant too. Normal milk has a certain taste to it that I just don't like, whereas goat's milk (which doesn't seem to trigger my kids who have the same intolerance) tastes just fine.

Have you had that checked out, yaffle? An itching mouth sounds like it might be an allergy...

Lisa Simpson
24th May 2007, 06:28 AM
Thought: could it be that it's the temperature of the milk? I refuse to drink milk if it's anything but very, very cold, so maybe the coldness is causing my throat to constrict? That would also explain the asthma association.

Very, very cold foods trigger asthma attacks in my youngest son, so that is probably a good guess. Dash can't eat ice cream without having terrible coughing fits.

EvilSmurf
24th May 2007, 06:35 AM
Milk makes a thickening sensation in the back of my throat, and I almost never drink it because of this.

Me too Teeks.

I heard the dairy thing in my days as an actor. One thing which seemed to help me (although this may be the placebo effect) was pineapple juice.

Professor Yaffle
24th May 2007, 06:50 AM
Have you had that checked out, yaffle? An itching mouth sounds like it might be an allergy...

It never seemed serious enough to get checked out. And because I drink milk so infrequently, it doesn't bother me much. I'm ok with cheese and with milk that has been cooked - and my son's intolerence seems to act against the same foods, so I just figured it was the same thing. It's not a serious itch, just like the sort of itchy throat you sometimes get when you are about to come down with a cold, only it affects the roof of my mouth too. It doesn't seem like a true allergic reaction, as I have had one of those to a food that my doctor and I never managed to identify - in that case, I got what felt like indigestion, then my throat seemed to close up and hurt to swallow, I went hot and cold at the same time and was violently sick, and a bit wheezy.

So I just keep on avoiding the foods I am already avoiding, and I should be fine. Wish I knew what caused my allergic reaction that one time though, as I wouldn't want to go through that again if I can help it.

malbui
24th May 2007, 09:44 AM
Another me too response - Mme Malbui was a professional soprano and never heard of this link or experienced any such problems.

In my punky metal sideline I do avoid milky products before going on stage, but this is mainly because I like to leave room for the five or six cold lagers that relax both my vocal cords and my strumming hand ;) .