Drinking Milk May Help Reduce Diabetes, Cardiovascular Risk

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Drinking Milk May Help Reduce Diabetes, Cardiovascular Risk

Drinking more milk may be good for your blood cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, even though it may also lead to more body fat, according to new research published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Some research in the past has linked a greater milk intake to a higher risk for cardiovascular problems, but that research often failed to fully take into account the differences between people who drink lots of milk and those who don’t. For the latest study, researchers used a statistical technique called Mendelian randomization to look for evidence of a causal relationship — one thing directly causing the other — between milk intake and cardiovascular risk factors, as well as actual cardiovascular disease. They used data from over 417,000 people who participated in three large population-based studies, and also referenced large databases to look at how different traits affected cardiovascular risk factors, as well as actual cardiovascular disease outcomes like stroke and heart attack.

The study’s results revealed a somewhat complicated picture regarding the health risks and benefits of drinking milk. As noted in a Healio article on the study, the greatest health benefits from drinking milk were seen in people who carried a particular genetic variant linked to continued production of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose, a form of sugar found in milk. People with this genetic variant tended to drink more milk, and had a higher average body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account). But they also tended to have lower blood cholesterol levels.

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What’s more, participants in the largest study included in the analysis — nearly 405,000 people — who drank the most milk had an 11% lower risk for type 2 diabetes, and tended to have a lower A1C level (a measure of long-term blood glucose control). Those who drank the most milk in a smaller study were 14% less likely to develop coronary artery disease (CAD), a major risk factor for heart attacks and other adverse events. But in the largest study, those who drank the most milk also tended to have higher blood pressure, BMI, and cholesterol and triglycerides.

The researchers concluded that in people who tend to drink the most milk — those with a particular genetic variant — the health benefits of drinking milk are likely to outweigh the risks, and may include a lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But the data paint a picture that’s complicated enough that no real recommendations can be made for how much milk people should drink. At least if you already drink milk regularly, you can rest assured that there’s no need to limit your milk consumption based on this study, and you may be getting health benefits from the beverage.

Want to learn more about milk and diabetes? Read “Dairy Foods for Diabetes.”

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!


Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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