Eating cheese and yogurt helps protect against premature death, study finds

Blocks of two-year cheddar cheese are displayed in this file photo taken on July 20, 2004 in Skokie, Illinois. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images) 

Eating dairy products, especially cheese and yogurt, was found to protect against premature death from any cause, according to researchers.

Yes, cheese. But the research also suggests that when it comes to effects on our health, not all dairy is created equal.

A team of researchers, led by Professor Maciej Banach of the Medical University of Lodz in Poland, reviewed data from U.S. health and nutritional surveys conducted between 1999 and 2010.

The researchers found consumption of all dairy products to be associated with a 2 percent lower risk of death from all causes and the consumption of cheese to be associated with an 8 percent lower risk.

For cerebrovascular mortality, such as stroke, researchers found a 4 percent lower risk with total dairy consumption and 7 percent lower risk with milk consumption.

Banach and his co-researchers then confirmed the results in a further analysis of data from several other studies of 636,726 people who were followed for approximately 15 years, the release said.

The research was presented at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology in 2018, a collective of health care professionals from around the world working to advance cardiovascular medicine and research.

Eating dairy products has long been thought to increase people's risk of premature death, particularly from coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and cancer, because of dairy's relatively high levels of saturated fat, a news release on the study states.

Researchers found, however, that the evidence to support this, especially among U.S. adults, is “inconsistent.”

For example, Banach states that an analysis of 29 cohort studies published in 2017 “found no association between the consumption of dairy products and either cardiovascular disease (CVD) or all-cause mortality."

At the same time, a large, 20-year study of adults in Sweden also published in 2017 found that drinking more milk was associated with double the risk of premature death in women, including death from cardiovascular disease.

The researchers concluded that among U.S. adults, “higher total dairy consumption protected against both total mortality and mortality from cerebrovascular causes,” such as death from stroke. However, higher milk consumption was associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, “an association that needs further study,” researchers said.

Therefore, current guidelines to limit consumption of dairy products, especially cheese and yogurt, should be relaxed — while the drinking of non-fat or low-fat milk should be recommended, especially for those who consume large quantities of milk, according to the research team.

"In light of the protective effects of dairy products, public health officials should revise the guidelines on dairy consumption,” Banach said. “And given the evidence that milk increases the risk of (coronary heart disease), it is advisable to drink fat-free or low-fat milk."

Previous studies have found that people who consume fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, are at a reduced risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.