Nita Wong ‘21
Whole milk, yogurt, cheese, and other full-fat dairy products have long been associated with health risks due to their saturated fat content. Nonetheless, a recent study conducted by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was unable to find a significant link between dairy fats and increased risk of heart disease or stroke, two of the top five leading causes of death in the United States.
Led by Dr. Marcia Otto, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at UTHealth’s School of Public Health, researchers evaluated the effects of three different phospholipid fatty acids present in dairy fat – 17:0, trans 16:1n-7, and 15:0 – on individuals’ risk of death from cardiovascular disease. They serially measured these fatty acid levels in 2,638 American adults over the age of 65 over the span of over two decades – once at the study’s beginning in 1992, then again in 1998, 2011, and 2015. During the years of follow-up, 2,619 deaths occurred, 930 of which resulted from cardiovascular disease; 603 of the 930 were caused by heart disease and 208 by stroke. When the accumulated data was analyzed, the researchers did not find a positive correlation between any of the three fatty acid types and risk for death due to cardiovascular disease; in fact, participants with higher 17:0 and trans 16:1n-7 phospholipid levels were found to be 42 percent less likely to die from stroke.
In their conclusions, the researchers emphasized that whole fat dairy foods are rich sources of nutrients that prevent undernourishment and resulting conditions such as osteoporosis and called for the revision of dietary guidelines regarding the consumption of whole fat dairy foods based on current as well as previous findings. They also noted that low-fat or fat-free dairy products, which are widely viewed as healthier alternatives to their whole fat counterparts, often include high amounts of added sugars, which are detrimental to cardiovascular and metabolic health.
- M. Otto, et. al., Circulating dairy fatty acids and total and cause-specific mortality: the cardiovascular health study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 135, (2018). doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqy117
- Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/board-cheese-close-up-dairy-417468/