Dairy Fats Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack, New Study Finds

A new study casts serious doubts on long-held heart health views

Newly released research amongst the world’s biggest consumers of dairy foods has shown that those with higher intakes of dairy fat (measured by assessing levels of fatty acids in the blood) had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to those with low intakes.

Most importantly perhaps, the research showed higher intakes of dairy fat were not associated with an increased risk of death.

About the study

Entitled ‘Biomarkers of dairy fat intake, incident cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: A cohort study, systematic review, and meta-analysis’ the study drew numerous conclusions that proved at odds with our current accepted views on dairy fat consumption and heart health.

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The study is comprehensive. The results of this study in just over 4,000 Swedish adults were combined with those from 17 similar studies in other countries, creating the most comprehensive evidence to date on the relationship between this more objective measure of dairy fat consumption, risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death.

In terms of methodology, the authors measured dairy fat consumption using an objective biomarker, serum pentadecanoic acid (15:0), in 4,150 Swedish 60-year-olds and collected information about CVD events and deaths during a median follow-up of 16.6 years.

Findings

There were, according to the study authors, two very significant findings. Bold highlights added by Medika.

When we accounted for known risk factors including demographics, lifestyle, and disease prevalence, the CVD risk was lowest for those with high levels of the dairy fat biomarker 15:0, while those with biomarker levels around the median had the lowest risk of all-cause mortality.

We also conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis, and the combined evidence from 18 studies also showed higher levels of 2 dairy fat biomarkers (15:0 and heptadecanoic acid 17:0) were linked with lower risk of CVD, but not with all-cause mortality.

Why this study is so important

Dairy consumption is on the rise worldwide. According to this OECD article, World per capita consumption of fresh dairy products is projected to increase by 1.0% p.a. over the coming decade, slightly faster than over the past ten years, driven by higher per-capita income growth.

Screengrab from OECD

According to one of the study authors, Dr. Matti Marklund of The George Institute for Global Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Uppsala University, a better understanding of the impact of dairy on heart health is essential.

“Many studies have relied on people being able to remember and record the amounts and types of dairy foods they’ve eaten, which is especially difficult given that dairy is commonly used in a variety of foods.

Instead, we measured blood levels of certain fatty acids, or fat ‘building blocks’ that are found in dairy foods, which gives a more objective measure of dairy fat intake that doesn’t rely on memory or the quality of food databases,” he added.

“We found those with the highest levels actually had the lowest risk of CVD. These relationships are highly interesting, but we need further studies to better understand the full health impact of dairy fats and dairy foods.”

When is more, less

New research is continuously expanding our understanding of the factors that contribute to CVD, but it’s important to realize before we rush out and stock up on cheese and dairy that CVD risk is multifaceted and that both exercise and diet are integral parts of a healthy heart equation.

All your dietary habits need to be considered alongside a regular exercise regime to effectively manage the risk of CVD. The good news from this research would appear to be that lovers of cheeses and milk can now enjoy their intake without undue concern for their heart health, but only in conjunction with other healthy heartcare choices.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Kathy Trieu had this to add on the consumption of some dairy foods, especially fermented products, that have previously been associated with benefits for the heart.

“Increasing evidence suggests that the health impact of dairy foods may be more dependent on the type — such as cheese, yoghurt, milk, and butter — rather than the fat content, which has raised doubts if avoidance of dairy fats overall is beneficial for cardiovascular health.

Our study suggests that cutting down on dairy fat or avoiding dairy altogether might not be the best choice for heart health.

It is important to remember that although dairy foods can be rich in saturated fat, they are also rich in many other nutrients and can be a part of a healthy diet. However, other fats like those found in seafood, nuts, and non-tropical vegetable oils can have greater health benefits than dairy fats,”

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