No Link between Dairy and Heart Attack or Stroke Risk, claims Study

A large review has examined the links between the risks of heart attack or stroke and dairy products and concluded that there is no associated risk between the two. The researchers carried out a review of 29 observational studies which examined the link between the consumption of dairy and cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and all-cause deaths. 

No Link between Dairy and Heart Attack or Stroke Risk, claims Study

The review was undertaken by scientists from Reading University in the UK, University of Copenhagen, Denmark and Wageningen University and Research Centre in The Netherlands and was published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, which is a peer-reviewed journal. The study can be accessed online and was funded by grants from the Global Dairy Platform, Dairy Research Institute and Dairy Australia. The funders were given no role in any of the study processes.

The combination of studies included almost 1 million people from around the world in a systematic review. The researchers looked for prospective cohort studies which included a group of healthy adults and followed them for a period of time to measure the amount of dairy they consumed and the incidence of death from cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and death from all causes. Participants in the studies chosen had an average age of 57 years, their BMI was 25.4 on average and the studies lasted for between 5 and 25 years. Seventeen of the studies were conducted in Europe but others took place in Australia, the US and Asia. The researchers standardised the portion sizes from the studies and took potential cofounding variables into account such as age, gender, whether they were a smoker, their BMI or body mass index, food energy intake, reported physical activity and the quality of the study.

The researchers examined the results for total dairy intake, whether high or low fat, intake of cheese (10g per day), fermented diary intake (20g per day) and yogurt intake, checking to see whether the results showed a link with a risk of death or coronary heart disease. Consumption of cheese showed a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and consumption of fermented diary intake was associated with a slightly lower risk of cardiovascular risk and death but both numbers were too low to be statistically significant and because the review was based on a wide number of studies, the results could not be relied on.

The large size of the review is a strength, but it can only be as good as the studies it relies on. The nature of observational studies is that potential confounders could influence the results. Not all of the studies adjusted for the same things. The review also relied on the studies measuring the dairy intake accurately. The study did not individually assess high fat products such as cream which could have had a negative effect on the results. Dairy is known to contain high levels of saturated fat and salt, although lower fat versions are available. Saturated fat has been linked with the risk of cardiovascular disease, however, dairy products also offer a valuable source of calcium which can help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The study confirms that there is no need to cut dairy from the diet completely but that high fat products should be eaten in moderation.

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The researchers examined the results for total dairy intake, whether high or low fat, intake of cheese (10g per day), fermented diary intake (20g per day) and yogurt intake, checking to see whether the results showed a link with a risk of death or coronary heart disease. Consumption of cheese showed a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and consumption of fermented diary intake was associated with a slightly lower risk of cardiovascular risk and death but both numbers were too low to be statistically significant and because the review was based on a wide number of studies, the results could not be relied on.

The large size of the review is a strength, but it can only be as good as the studies it relies on. The nature of observational studies is that potential confounders could influence the results. Not all of the studies adjusted for the same things. The review also relied on the studies measuring the dairy intake accurately. The study did not individually assess high fat products such as cream which could have had a negative effect on the results. Dairy is known to contain high levels of saturated fat and salt, although lower fat versions are available. Saturated fat has been linked with the risk of cardiovascular disease, however, dairy products also offer a valuable source of calcium which can help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The study confirms that there is no need to cut dairy from the diet completely but that high fat products should be eaten in moderation.

Guo J, et al. Milk and dairy consumption and risk of cardiovascular diseases and all-cause mortality: dose–response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. European Journal of Epidemiology. April 2017

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