Dairy for Health?

milk splash on blue background

By Dan Hall

Old myths tend to die hard in the medical profession. The status quo explanation for heart disease appears to be one of these. For over a decade, various studies have demonstrated a very plausible link between increased blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine and damaged or clogged arteries. Research into the decrease of homocysteine levels in the blood has made promising headway in showing that the B vitamin, folic acid, lowers homocysteine levels, thus lowering incidents of clogged arteries, regardless of the amount of bad cholesterol within the blood. The correlation between high levels of cholesterol consumed and cholesterol housed within the bloodstream has yet to be dismissed by the medical community, but there is good cause to believe that unregulated levels of homocysteine better explains incidents of heart disease than does over-consumption of cholesterol.

Harvard Medical School released a report in the April 2002 edition of JAMA that suggested a correlation between the consumption of dairy products and lower risks for diabetes and heart disease in overweight persons. The longitudinal study involved approximately 3,000 volunteers from a variety of lifestyles. Some of them consumed upwards of five servings of dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) per day while others consumed very few dairy products. The Harvard researchers concluded that dairy products quite possibly, the nutrients within dairy, such as calcium and animal protein are capable of lowering the body’s resistance to insulin, a condition that can lead to diabetes and is believed to lead to heart disease. It was argued that five or more servings of dairy products per day could also reduce the risk of dyslipidemia (a disease marked by the increase of LDL or bad cholesterol and decrease of HDL or good cholesterol), which supposedly increases risk factors for heart disease. This study and others like it are prime examples of how some scientists refuse to update their procedures in light of new evidence.

As aforementioned, quite a bit of evidence exists to link unregulated homocysteine levels with high levels of bad cholesterol within the blood. Homocysteine damages the walls of blood vessels, and the body produces cholesterol to patch these damaged areas. The more patches that exist, the thicker the blood vessel walls become, and this is the true cause of clogged arteries. A well-balanced diet high in the proper nutrients (including folic acid) is responsible for lowering levels of homocysteine, reducing bad cholesterol and saturated fats, and keeping the arteries from becoming or remaining congested.

The current Harvard study correlating the consumption of dairy products with decreased risk for certain diseases has left many researchers slapping their knees and chuckling. This study seems to contradict numerous others that have correlated the increased consumption of dairy products with diseases such as diabetes. Many of these studies also downplay the need for dairy products in large quantities, if at all. In fact, another Harvard study, which followed 75,000 women over a 12-year period, showed that the consumption of dairy products not only had no effect on the disease of osteoporosis but could also lead to osteoporosis due to the high inassimilable calcium content. Other research into the damaging effects of dairy products shows that they can cause diabetes due to their ability to harm the pancreas, they can cause obesity due to their high saturated fat content, and they can lead to many other adult and childhood diseases such as earaches, Chrone’s disease, and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or crib death.

So, why did the Harvard researchers correlate the increased consumption of dairy products with increased resistance to diabetes and heart disease? One explanation could simply be that they didn’t correlate the increased consumption of dairy products with increased resistance to diabetes and heart disease. Typically in science, longitudinal studies such as this one are only able to show correlations within the test subjects. So, the only true correlation that can be made is that the people studied over the 10-year period who consumed more dairy products benefited from this consumption. Another explanation is that this study was merely poor science; chances are, lifestyle choices, consumption of other foods, nutritional supplementation, specific brands and types of dairy products, and numerous other variables were not considered. Thus, something else altogether could have contributed to the decrease in diseases such as diabetes.

Of course, the best explanation is that overweight people are typically unhealthy due to their diets. The increased consumption of dairy products might have provided increased levels of certain vitamins and minerals. Ordinarily, dairy products are not the best sources of nutrients as a foodstuff, but for people who are otherwise nutritionally deficient, dairy products could contain certain ingredients necessary for health. People who are normally eating diets low in nutrition might benefit from increased dairy products for a time, thus reducing the short-term risks for diabetes and heart disease; however, long-term dairy consumption will increase saturated fats within the bloodstream, decrease nutrients, harm the cellular structure of the pancreas, and increase risks for diabetes and high blood levels of homocysteine. The Harvard study failed to include this information, and the media failed to report the scientific facts as they should have been reported.

Dan Hall is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, GA, the author of You Can’t Catch a Cold and other books on disease-free living and longevity, and an accomplished musician and Webmaster. For more information, visit his official site at http://www.endlesspath.com

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