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Study: Low-Fat Milk Doesn't Hurt Heart

Low-Fat or Nonfat Milk Doesn't Worsen Risk of Developing Heart Disease or Stroke
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WebMD Health News

May 23, 2005 -- Drinking low-fat or nonfat milk does not increase a person's risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke, and it may even be slightly protective, a new study suggests.

Researchers in the U.K. found that middle-aged men who drank the most milk had the same rate of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from all causes as men who drank the least over two decades of observation.

Drinking more than 7 ounces of milk a day was associated with a 10% decrease in heart attack risk compared with drinking less milk. But researcher Andy Ness, MD, says it is not clear if this protective effect is real.

"We found no evidence that drinking modest amounts of milk as part of a balanced diet had any detrimental effect on health," he tells WebMD. "But I would not encourage people to drink large quantities of milk based on this study to decrease their cardiovascular risk. That would be the wrong message."

Evidence Shows Little Risk Antimilk groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals contend that dairy consumption is a major cause of heart attacks and strokes in

the U.S. An essay entitled "Got Heart Disease?" found on the group's web site charges that "study after study has implicated cow's milk and other dairy products as a cause of heart disease and clogged arteries."

But the clinical evidence shows little or no association between low-fat and nonfat dairy consumption and cardiovascular risk, American Heart Association spokesman Gerald Fletcher, MD, tells WebMD. Fletcher directs the preventive cardiology program at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.

An analysis of 10 studies examining milk consumption and heart attacks and strokes, published by Ness and colleagues last year, showed no evidence of increased cardiovascular risk in milk drinkers. Like their own research, the studies suggested that drinking milk may be associated with a small reduction in heart disease and stroke risk. But the finding was not conclusive.

"Certainly high-fat dairy products can be a problem in terms of raising cholesterol levels," he says. "But low-fat dairy doesn't seem to have much impact one way or the other."

Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, and Milk

The new study included 665 men between the ages of 45 and 59 recruited for an ongoing nutrition and health study between 1979 and 1983. Just after recruitment the men were asked to weigh and record everything they ate or drank for one week. They were then followed for evidence of heart disease for the next 20 years, during which time 54 of the men had strokes, 139 developed heart disease, and 225 died.

Most of the men drank whole milk when they entered the study, but almost all had switched to skim or low fat two decades later.

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