A large multinational cohort study of almost 140,000 individuals aged 35-70 years enrolled from 21 countries in five continents found that dairy consumption was associated with lower risk of death in general including death from major cardiovascular disease.

Dietary guidelines recommend minimising consumption of whole-fat dairy products, as they are a source of saturated fats which may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the evidence for this assumption is limited so this study was designed to provide the evidence. It involved dietary questionnaires and just over 9 years of follow-up. In that time 10,567 deaths were recorded including 5,855 deaths from cardiovascular disease.

The study found that those who had more than two servings of dairy produce a day were around 15% less likely to die from any cause and 15% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

So, contrary to expectations, eating dairy foods appears to lower the risk of death and death from cardiovascular disease compared to not eating dairy foods. But is it that simple? See ‘The Naked Truth’ below.

There may be a very good reason why people do not eat dairy foods. For example, they may be lactose intolerant or vegan. So, instead of dairy foods reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, it may be that lactose intolerant people or people with restricted, perhaps less healthy diets such as vegans are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

In the World, currently there is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency which can result in diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, neuro-degenerative diseases and cancer. Dairy foods do contain vitamin D and in some countries such as the US and Canada, milk is fortified with vitamin D. So, while eating dairy appears to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and death, it may actually be vitamin D deficiency in those that do not eat diary that is causing this effect.

Lancet. 2018 Sep 11. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31812-9