Have You Heard the Latest About Dairy Foods and Stroke?

November 10, 2016

The other day I heard a scary statistic: On average, one American dies from stroke every four minutes.

Stroke, caused by decreased blood supply to the brain, is the leading cause of disability. However, the good news is it’s the leading preventable cause of disability. In fact, according to the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke, “a better understanding of the causes of stroke has helped Americans make lifestyle changes that have cut the stroke death rate nearly in half.” And now new research on dairy foods and stroke lends more evidence to support dairy’s beneficial role in cardiovascular health.

Stroke risk increases with age, but no matter what your age, reducing risk factors such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and smoking, are key approaches to minimize stroke risk. Health and wellness professionals have the important role of helping people make diet and lifestyle choices that help improve their cardiovascular health.

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, there is strong evidence that healthy eating patterns that include low-fat and fat-free dairy foods are associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease – including stroke. Recent evidence from meta-analyses and prospective cohort studies has linked dairy food consumption with either neutral or lower risk of stroke (Larsson 2012; Dalmejier 2013; Praagman 2015).

Researchers are attempting to gain more insight into how stroke risk varies according to the fat level or type of dairy food consumed (i.e., milk, cheese, yogurt), the type of stroke (i.e., ischemic, hemorrhagic), country/population of origin or other factors. Most recently a systematic review and updated dose-response meta-analysis of 18 prospective observational studies conducted in Europe, East Asia, the United States and Australia found that milk and cheese consumption are associated with lower stroke risk. They found:

  • An increment of 200 grams (~one cup) of milk daily was associated with a 7 percent lower risk of stroke overall and an 18 percent lower risk in East Asian populations (China and Japan).
  • Eating cheese (26 grams/day or approximately one ounce) was marginally associated with lower stroke risk. Total fermented dairy consumption was associated with a borderline lower risk of stroke.
  • Yogurt, butter or total dairy consumption were not associated with stroke risk.

These results are similar to those found in a meta-analysis by Hu, et al., published in 2013. The authors said it’s not exactly clear how consumption of milk and cheese can lower stroke risk, though it might be linked to their calcium, potassium and magnesium content and influence on blood pressure. Evaluation of results was difficult because people in different countries eat different amounts and types of dairy foods than we do in the U.S. and study quality and other factors of study design varied.

What we do know is that eating recommended amounts of dairy foods as part of a heart-healthy eating plan such as the Healthy U.S.-Style or DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) contribute to many aspects of cardiovascular health. Click here for more information and to evaluate your client’s risk for stroke.   

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