12 January - 20 June 2016

Dairy consumption linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and mortality

A global observational study, conducted by researchers from a variety of institutions worldwide, recently published in The Lancet, has shown a link to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and mortality with the consumption of three servings of dairy per day.

Cardiovascular disease is thought to be the leading cause of mortality worldwide. Saturated fats have been presumed to increase cardiovascular disease and mortality risk and as dairy products are a major source of such saturated fats, dietary guidelines have often sought to recommend the reduction of consumption of whole-fat dairy products. A global observational study however, conducted by researchers from a variety of institutions worldwide, recently published in The Lancet, has shown a link to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and mortality with the consumption of three servings of dairy per day.

Dehghan et al. conducted a broad study, the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study involving over 130,000 people between the ages of 35 and 70, in 21 countries from 5 continents over the last 15 years. Dietary intakes of dairy products (milk, yoghurt and cheese further divided into whole and low-fat products) were recorded using country-specific food frequency questionnaires (FFQ) with each participant’s progress being followed over an average of 9 years. The primary outcome recorded over the period of follow up was the composite of mortality or major cardiovascular events (death from cardiovascular causes, non-fatal myocardial infarction, stroke or heart failure) with secondary outcomes including total mortality and major cardiovascular events.

Based on the FFQ responses, participants were separated into four consumption level groups; no dairy, less than 1 serving per day, 1-2 servings per day, more than 2 servings a day. Overall, follow statistical analysis, Dehghan et al. found that those in the highest intake group (an average of 3.2 servings per day) showed lower risk of total mortality, non-cardiovascular mortality, cardiovascular mortality, major cardiovascular disease and stroke, compared to those in the non-intake group. Dehghan et al. also showed other associations including that those consuming milk at more than one serving per day had a significant lower risk of the composite outcome than those in the zero-intake group as did those consuming more than one serving of cheese per day, though this was not significant. Those consuming more than one portion of butter per day had a non-significant higher risk of the composite outcome than those in the zero-intake group.

The authors note that results were consistent in regions with high or low dairy intake and that the lower risk of composite outcome showed a “larger protective effect in regions with higher dairy consumption”.

 In conclusion Dehghan et al. reiterate that their results show inverse associations between total dairy consumption and mortality or major cardiovascular disease event” and note that the risk of stroke was “markedly lower” with higher consumption. They indicate that their findings suggest that dairy consumption ”might be beneficial for mortality and cardiovascular disease, especially in low-income and middle-income countries where dairy consumption is much lower than North America and Europe” and so should not be discouraged and perhaps even encouraged in those regions where current consumption is low.

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