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Eating at least two daily servings of dairy is linked to lower risks of diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as a group of factors that increase cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, researchers have found.
The links were strongest for full fat dairy products, according to those behind a large international study published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.
They noted that earlier research had suggested that higher dairy intake was associated with a lower risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and a cluster of CVD factors known as metabolic syndrome.
However, the researchers flagged that these previous studies had tended to focus on North America and Europe.
To see whether these associations might also be found in a broader range of diets and populations, the researchers drew on data from thousands of participants from 21 countries.
The countries included Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Iran, Malaysia, Palestine, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe.
Usual dietary intake over the previous 12 months was assessed by questionnaire. Dairy products included milk, yogurt, yogurt drinks, cheese and dishes prepared with dairy products, and were classified as full or low fat.
Butter and cream were assessed separately, because these are not commonly eaten in some of the countries studied, noted the researchers.
Information was also collected on medical history, prescriptions, education, smoking and measurements of weight, height, waist circumference, blood pressure and fasting blood glucose.
Average daily total dairy consumption was 179g, with full fat accounting for around double the amount of low fat.
Total dairy and full fat dairy, but not low fat dairy, were associated with a lower prevalence of most components of metabolic syndrome, said the researchers.
“Increasing dairy consumption may represent a feasible and low cost approach to reducing cardiovascular disease events worldwide”
At least two servings a day of total dairy were associated with a 24% lower risk of metabolic syndrome, rising to 28% for full fat dairy alone, compared with no daily dairy intake.
The health of nearly 190,000 participants was tracked for an average of nine years, during which time 13,640 people developed high blood pressure and 5351 developed diabetes.
At least two servings a day of total dairy was associated with an 11-12% lower risk of both conditions, rising to a 13-14% lower risk for three daily servings.
The associations were stronger for full fat than they were for low fat dairy, according to the study authors.
The researchers said: “Higher dairy consumption was associated with lower mean blood pressure, waist circumference, triglycerides, and blood glucose.
“If our findings are confirmed in sufficiently large and long term trials, then increasing dairy consumption may represent a feasible and low cost approach to reducing [metabolic syndrome], hypertension, diabetes, and ultimately cardiovascular disease events worldwide.”