New research has found that eating a diet rich in dairy products appears to be linked to a lower risk of certain health conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure.
Carried out by an international team of researchers, the new study looked at 147,812 participants aged between 35 and 70 from 21 countries: Argentina; Bangladesh; Brazil; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; India; Iran; Malaysia; Palestine; Pakistan; Philippines, Poland; South Africa; Saudi Arabia; Sweden; Tanzania; Turkey; United Arab Emirates; and Zimbabwe.
The participants were asked to complete Food Frequency Questionnaires which assessed their diet over the last 12 months.
Dairy products included milk, yoghurt, yoghurt drinks, cheese and dishes prepared with dairy products, which were classified as full or low-fat (1-2%). However, butter and cream were assessed separately as they are not commonly eaten in some of the countries included in the study.
Other factors such as the participants’ medical history, use of prescription medicines, smoking status, measurements of weight, height, waist circumference, and blood pressure and fasting blood glucose were also recorded, and participants were then followed for an average of nine years.
The findings showed that eating at least two servings of dairy each day is linked to an 11 to 12% lower risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, while three servings of total dairy each day is linked to a 13 to 14% lower risk. The associations were also stronger for full-fat dairy than they were for low-fat dairy.
Two daily servings of total dairy were also linked to a 24% lower risk of metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of conditions that includes a higher waist circumference, high triglyceride levels, low levels of “good” cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure) and high fasting blood sugar, which together can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Again, the relationship was stronger for full-fat dairy; two servings of full-fat was linked with a 28% lower risk of metabolic syndrome, compared with no daily dairy intake, and eating low-fat dairy was not associated with a lower prevalence of most of the conditions that make up metabolic syndrome.
The researchers point out that the study is an observational one, and so they cannot establish a cause and effect relationship.
However, they add that: “If our findings are confirmed in sufficiently large and long term trials, then increasing dairy consumption may represent a feasible and low cost approach to reducing [metabolic syndrome], hypertension, diabetes, and ultimately cardiovascular disease events worldwide.”