Milk and dairy products like cream, butter, cheese and yogurt provide immense health benefits to us humans. However, questions have always been raised about the usefulness (especially) of fat content in whole milk. Some believe that whole milk and dairy products may increase one’s chance of getting cardiovascular diseases (CVD). This belief is based on the fact that whole milk and milk products seems to raise the level of cholesterol in blood.
Furthermore, some doubts have also expressed about the ability of human digestive system to breakdown and assimilate milk and dairy products – thus, the belief that milk and dairy products may be causing more harm than good.
Dairy products and cardiovascular-metabolic diseases
Milk and dairy products are often associated with raised plasma cholesterol. Additionally, whole milk is wrongly thought to be fattening – hence the popularity of milk with reduced fat content. Thus the belief in popular culture that milk and milk products may be causing cardiovascular metabolic diseases including diabetes (Elwood, 2001).
Research, on the contrary, suggests that although milk does seem to increase plasma levels of cholesterol, this raised plasma cholesterol doesn’t seem to translate into an increased incidence of cardiovascular-metabolic diseases. In fact, milk and dairy products have been shown to be associated with increase in the good cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL) (Temme, Mensink, & Hornstra, 1996; Mensink, Zock, Kester, & Katan, 2003) and reduction in blood pressure (Griffith, Guyatt, Cook, Bucher, & Cook, 1999; Garcia-Palmieri et al., 1984).
A meta-analysis conducted by Peter Elwood et. al., further goes on to suggest that those with highest consumption of milk and dairy products seem to exhibit reduced incidence of ischemic heart disease, stroke and diabetes (Elwood, Pickering, Givens, & Gallacher, 2010). The same study also showed decreased all-cause mortality rate in those who had highest consumption of whole milk and dairy products. Similar inverse relationship between regular whole milk consumption and death from CVD has been shown by Jacobson and Stensvold (Jacobsen & Stensvold, 1992). Although similar studies have also been conducted on the association of cheese and butter consumption with CVD, the results have proved to be inconclusive (Elwood et al., 2010); Some authors do state with a certain degree of confidence that butter intake has nothing to do with incidence of CVD (Gillman et al., 1997).
TO conclude, contrary to popular belief, milk and dairy products provide immense health benefits and aren’t bad for human consumption: regular consumption of whole milk and dairy products seems to reduce the incidence of the following pathologic conditions/disorders:
- coronary heart disease
- ischemic heart disease
- sub-arachnoid haemorrhage
- all-cause mortality (death due to all pathologic causes)
Elwood, P. (2001). Milk, coronary disease and mortality. J Epidemiol.Community Health, 55, 375.
Elwood, P. C., Pickering, J. E., Givens, D. I., & Gallacher, J. E. (2010). The consumption of milk and dairy foods and the incidence of vascular disease and diabetes: an overview of the evidence. Lipids, 45, 925-939.
Garcia-Palmieri, M. R., Costas, R., Jr., Cruz-Vidal, M., Sorlie, P. D., Tillotson, J., & Havlik, R. J. (1984). Milk consumption, calcium intake, and decreased hypertension in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico Heart Health Program study. Hypertension, 6, 322-328.
Gillman, M. W., Cupples, L. A., Gagnon, D., Millen, B. E., Ellison, R. C., & Castelli, W. P. (1997). Margarine intake and subsequent coronary heart disease in men. Epidemiology, 8, 144-149.
Griffith, L. E., Guyatt, G. H., Cook, R. J., Bucher, H. C., & Cook, D. J. (1999). The influence of dietary and nondietary calcium supplementation on blood pressure: an updated metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Hypertens., 12, 84-92.
Jacobsen, B. K. & Stensvold, I. (1992). Milk–a better drink? Relationships with total serum cholesterol in a cross-sectional survey. The Nordland Health Study. Scand.J Soc Med, 20, 204-208.
Mensink, R. P., Zock, P. L., Kester, A. D., & Katan, M. B. (2003). Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr., 77, 1146-1155.
Temme, E. H., Mensink, R. P., & Hornstra, G. (1996). Comparison of the effects of diets enriched in lauric, palmitic, or oleic acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins in healthy women and men. Am J Clin Nutr., 63, 897-903.
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