Study Title:

Milk and Longevity

Study Abstract

OBJECTIVES: To conduct a detailed evaluation, with meta-analyses, of the published evidence on milk and dairy consumption and the incidence of vascular diseases and diabetes. Also to summarise the evidence on milk and dairy consumption and cancer reported by the World Cancer Research Fund and then to consider the relevance of milk and dairy consumption to survival in the UK, a typical Western community. Finally, published evidence on relationships with whole milk and fat-reduced milks was examined.

METHODS: Prospective cohort studies of vascular disease and diabetes with baseline data on milk or dairy consumption and a relevant disease outcome were identified by searching MEDLINE, and reference lists in the relevant published reports. Meta-analyses of relationships in these reports were conducted. The likely effect of milk and dairy consumption on survival was then considered, taking into account the results of published overviews of relationships of these foods with cancer.

RESULTS: From meta-analysis of 15 studies the relative risk of stroke and/or heart disease in subjects with high milk or dairy consumption was 0.84 (95% CI 0.76, 0.93) and 0.79 (0.75, 0.82) respectively, relative to the risk in those with low consumption. Four studies reported incident diabetes as an outcome, and the relative risk in the subjects with the highest intake of milk or diary foods was 0.92 (0.86, 0.97).

CONCLUSIONS: Set against the proportion of total deaths attributable to the life-threatening diseases in the UK, vascular disease, diabetes and cancer, the results of meta-analyses provide evidence of an overall survival advantage from the consumption of milk and dairy foods.

From July 2009 press release:

Research undertaken by the Universities of Reading, Cardiff and Bristol has found that drinking milk can lessen the chances of dying from illnesses such as coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke by up to 15-20 %.

In recent times milk has often been portrayed by the media as an unhealthy food. The study, led by Professor Peter Elwood (Cardiff University) together with Professor Ian Givens from the University of Reading’s Food Chain and Health Research Theme, aimed to establish whether the health benefits of drinking milk outweigh any dangers that lie in its consumption.

Importantly, this is the first time that disease risk associated with drinking milk has been looked at in relation to the number of deaths which the diseases are responsible for.

The review brought together published evidence from 324 studies of milk consumption as predictors of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and, diabetes. Data on milk consumption and cancer were based on the recent World Cancer Research Fund report. The outcomes were then compared with current death rates from these diseases.

Professor Givens explained: “While growth and bone health are of great importance to health and function, it is the effects of milk and dairy consumption on chronic disease that are of the greatest relevance to reduced morbidity and survival. Our review made it possible to assess overall whether increased milk consumption provides a survival advantage or not. We believe it does.

“Our findings clearly show that when the numbers of deaths from CHD, stroke and colo-rectal cancer were taken into account, there is strong evidence of an overall reduction in the risk of dying from these chronic diseases due to milk consumption. We certainly found no evidence that drinking milk might increase the risk of developing any condition, with the exception of prostate cancer. Put together, there is convincing overall evidence that milk consumption is associated with an increase in survival in Western communities.”

The reviewers also believe that increased milk consumption is likely to reduce health care costs substantially due to reduced chronic disease and associated morbidity.

“There is an urgent need to understand the mechanisms involved and for focused studies to confirm the epidemiological evidence since this topic has major implications for the agri-food industry,” added Professor Givens.

Study Information

Elwood PC, Givens DI, Beswick AD, Fehily AM, Pickering JE, Gallacher J.
The survival advantage of milk and dairy consumption: an overview of evidence from cohort studies of vascular diseases, diabetes and cancer.
J Am Coll Nutr.
2008 December
University of Reading, UK.

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