A study suggests that people who consume more dairy fat have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who eat less.
Published in the medical journal PLOS Medicine on Tuesday, the research was conducted by an international team of scientists who analyzed the dairy fat intake of 4,150 60-year-olds in Sweden by measuring blood levels of a particular fatty acid that is mostly found in dairy foods. The researchers followed the cohort for an average of 16 years to record how many of the subjects died, had heart attacks, strokes, and other serious circulatory events.
After the scientists statistically adjusted their data for other known heart disease risk factors including age, income, lifestyle, dietary habits, and other diseases, they found that those with high levels of fatty acid ― which is indicative of high consumption of dairy fat ― had the lowest risk of heart disease, as well as no increased risk of death from all causes.
These findings were later confirmed after the researchers combined the Swedish results with 17 other studies involving a total of almost 43,000 individuals from the U.S., Denmark, and the U.K.
In a statement, Matti Marklund, senior researcher at the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney and joint senior author of the study, said that even though their findings may be partly influenced by factors other than dairy fat, the results of their research do not suggest any harm of dairy fat per se.
“We found those with the highest levels actually had the lowest risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease). These relationships are highly interesting,” Marklund said. “But we need further studies to better understand the full health impact of dairy fats and dairy foods.”
Lead author Kathy Trieu added that their study also “suggests that cutting down on dairy fat or avoiding dairy altogether might not be the best choice for heart health.” Though dairy foods can be rich in saturated fat, which is bad for one’s health, Trieu noted that “dairy products are also rich in many other nutrients and can be a part of a healthy diet.”
However, Alice Lichtenstein, director and senior scientist at Tufts University’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory and who was not involved in the study, made it clear that the results of the research “do not support consuming full fat dairy products to reduce CVD risk.”
Citing the study data, Lichtenstein said that the group of subjects with the highest biomarker of dairy consumption also had a significantly lower body mass index, lower smoking rate, lower rates of type 2 diabetes, lower intake of processed meat, had a higher intake of vegetable, fruit, and fish, and were more physically active. Since all those factors are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, Lichtenstein pinpointed that there’s only a correlation between high dairy fat intake and reduced risk of heart disease rather than a causal link. After all, as Lichtenstein pointed out in an email to CNN, the authors of the study could not identify what type of dairy products their subjects consumed.