Research: Fat is not as bad as we were lead to believe.

Research DefinitionResearch Definition

Fat from dairy is associated with a lower risk of Diabetes type 2.

Milk
Milk

Twenty-six years ago, when I went to medical school, scientists and medical experts alike push the belief that fat was evil and the cause of heart disease. I remember a biochemist and physiologist lecturing that this may not be as clear as we taught. These two PhDs taught me to be family skeptical of medical research. I have been concerned my whole career that we might be giving our patients bad advice.

In prior studies, the relationship of self-reported consumption of dairy foods with the risk of diabetes mellitus is inconsistent and has been that way for decades, but often experts sweep confounding data under the rug and ignore the studies that produce it. Very few studies have assessed dairy fat and incident diabetes mellitus. A study from 2016 tested the hypothesis by looking at circulating fatty acid biomarkers of dairy fat and their association with the incidence of diabetes mellitus​[1]​.

The subjects of the two studies used in the writeup were a group of over 3000 adults aged 30 to 75 years. They were free of prevalent diabetes mellitus at baseline. The incidence of diabetes mellitus was assessed by a supplementary questionnaire based on symptoms, diagnostic tests, and medications. During the follow-up, less than 300 new cases of diabetes mellitus were diagnosed. The researchers compared this to dairy fat markers in the blood and individuals with higher plasma had a 44% lower risk of diabetes mellitus.

So why is this important? Well more research is needed, but with less Diabetes type 2, we would have an accompanying decrease in metabolic syndrome, obesity, and heart disease. This is conflicting with prior guidelines. This study could completely negate advice given to Americans for years to eat low-fat dairy.

I would jump out and eat a stick of butter or switch to full-fat milk. Full-fat dairy is much higher in calories than low-fat. The benefit of going low-fat is a calorie reduction which might assist with weight loss. Weight gain has been associated with increased risk for many diseases so more calories might just counter that.

The bottom line: Higher plasma dairy fatty acid concentrations were associated with lower incident diabetes mellitus. The findings highlight the need to better understand the potential health effects of dairy fat and the dietary and metabolic determinants of these fatty acids. More studies are needed. For now, I would not jump on or off the dairy bandwagon, combined with more recent research, enjoy your cheese and milk!

Reference:

  1. [1]
    M. Y. Yakoob et al., “Circulating Biomarkers of Dairy Fat and Risk of Incident Diabetes Mellitus Among Men and Women in the United States in Two Large Prospective Cohorts,” Circulation, pp. 1645–1654, Apr. 2016, doi: 10.1161/circulationaha.115.018410. [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.018410
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About the Author

ChuckH
I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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