Skim Milk Drinkers Rejoice: You May Have a Lower Stroke Risk

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A recent Swedish study found that people who consumed low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese had a lower long-term risk of stroke compared with those who ate full-fat dairy products.

The study looked at 74,961 Swedish adults who were were free of heart disease at the start of the study. The participants filled out dietary and lifestyle questionnaires and were followed for 10 years — making the study one of the largest to date on the subject. Their food and drink consumption was divided into eight categories ranging from no dairy intake to four servings of dairy per day.

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During the 10 years, 4,089 strokes occurred, with those consuming low-fat dairy at lower risk. The results found that those who ate an average of four servings of low-fat dairy products a day had a 12% lower risk of stroke and a 13% lower risk of ischemic stroke than people who consumed high-fat dairy foods.

“From a public health perspective, if people consume more low-fat dairy foods rather than high-fat dairy foods, they will benefit from a reduced risk of stroke and other positive health outcomes,” said study author Dr. Susanna Larsson, an associate professor of epidemiology in the division of nutritional epidemiology in the National Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, said in a statement.

Although the study could not confirm the reasons why low-fat dairy products were associated with a lower stroke risk, the researchers speculate it is related to the calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin D found in the foods. Also, it makes sense that choosing foods that are lower in fat would be a benefit to cardiovascular health. “Low-fat dairy foods but not high-fat dairy foods has been shown to reduce blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a strong risk factor for stroke,” says Dr. Larsson in an email.

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“The bottom line is that if you’re consuming more fat in your day — no matter where it’s coming from — it is going to increase your risk for atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries], and thereby your risk for stroke,” Lona Sandon, a dietician and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, told HealthDay.

That’s the theory behind federal guidelines for dairy intake. “In the study, those consuming less than [four servings per day] still saw some beneficial effects.  The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet recommends two to three servings per day of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or reduced fat cheese,” says Dr. Rachel K. Johnson, a Bickford professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

According to Larsson, Northern Europeans and North Americans consume high amounts of dairy and a switch to low-fat products could greatly influence stroke risk. “Low-fat dairy foods, but not high-fat dairy, are fortified with vitamin D in the United States and in Sweden which has been inversely associated with blood pressure,” says Dr. Larsson.

The study was published online in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.