Could eating dairy help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes?

The scientists saw a significant reduction in volunteers' blood levels of LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and other important markers of cardiometabolic risk

New international research published in the journal PLOS Medicine has found that a higher consumption of certain dairy products may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Led by scientists at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, UK, and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, USA, the new large-scale study looked at a total of 63,682 adults from 16 different studies to investigate whether there was a relationship between biomarkers of dairy fat consumption and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

While many other previous studies have used self-reports from participants in order to assess diet, which can be subject to inaccuracies, biomarkers are molecules in the body which can be measured accurately and consistently to indicate dietary consumption.

After the participants were followed for an average of nine years the results showed that higher concentrations of dairy-fat biomarkers were associated with lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

More specifically, the researchers found that those who were among the top fifth of the concentrations of dairy-fat markers had around a 30 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes when compared with people among the bottom fifth of the concentrations.

This risk was also independent of other major risk factors for the condition such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical activity and obesity.

US and international nutritional guidelines often recommend regular consumption of dairy products as an important source of key nutrients, with previous research also linking dairy products, in particular yogurt and cheese, with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. However, these findings have also been inconsistent and so the evidence has remained unclear.

"Our results provide the most comprehensive global evidence to date about dairy fat biomarkers and their relationship with lower risk of type 2 diabetes," said lead author, Dr. Fumiaki Imamura, "We're aware that our biomarker work has limitations and requires further research on underlying mechanisms, but at the very least, the available evidence about dairy fat does not indicate any increased risk for the development of type 2 diabetes."

One of these limitations is that the results cannot distinguish between different types of dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, which could each have a different effect. The team also recommend that further research should now be carried out in diverse populations with different types of dairy products and with different food preparation methods.