Sept. 12 (UPI) -- People who consume three servings of milk daily have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and mortality than those consuming lower dairy levels, according to a study in 21 countries.
The study also found that people who consumed less than a half serving of whole fat dairy per day had higher rates of mortality and cardiovascular disease than those who had three servings.
The findings, which were published Tuesday in The Lancet Journal, run contrary to dietary guidelines for people to minimize consumption of whole-fat dairy products and consume only 2-4 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy each day.
"Our findings support that consumption of dairy products might be beneficial for mortality and cardiovascular disease, especially in low-income and middle-income countries where dairy consumption is much lower than in North America or Europe," Dr. Mahshid Dehghan, a senior research associate in nutrition Epidemiology at McMaster University, Canada, said in a press release.
Dairy consumption was highest in North America and Europe at more than four servings of total dairy per day and lowest in south Asia, China, Africa and southeast Asia at less than 1 serving of total dairy per day.
One standard serving of dairy included a glass of milk at 244 grams, a cup of yogurt at 244g, one slice of cheese at 15g or a teaspoon of butter at 5g.
Researchers analyzed data on 136,384 people between age 35 and 70 collected between January 2003 and July 2018. Participants were followed up for an average of 9.1 years, during which there were 6,796 deaths and 5,855 major cardiovascular events.
Participants were divided into four groups -- no dairy, less than 1 serving per day, 1-2 servings per day and more than 2 servings per day.
When compared with those no consuming milk, the high intake group had lower rates in four categories -- total mortality of 3.4 percent vs. 5.6 percent, non-cardiovascular mortality of 2.5 percent vs. 4 percent, cardiovascular mortality of 0.9 percent vs. 1.6 percent, major cardiovascular disease of 3.5 percent vs. 4.9 percent and stroke of 1.2 percent vs. 2.9 percent.
Myocardial infarction between the two groups was similar -- 1.9 percent for nonconsumption and 1.6 percent for high consumption.
When examining only whole-fat dairy, higher intake was associated with lower rates of total mortality compared with 0.5 serving of 3.3 vs. 4.4 percent and major cardiovascular disease of 3.7 percent vs. 5.0 percent.
Researchers noted that the guidelines to consume low-fat dairy are based on saturated fats on a single cardiovascular risk marker of LDL cholesterol. But they also point out that evidence suggests some saturated fats may be beneficial to cardiovascular health. And dairy products may also contain other potentially beneficial compounds, including specific amino acids, unsaturated fats, vitamin K1 and K2, calcium, magnesium, potassium and potentially probiotics, the researchers said.
The researchers wrote that "consumption of dairy products should not be discouraged."
In a linked Comment, Jimmy Chun Yu Louie of the University of Hong Kong and Anna M. Rangan of the University of Sydney wrote consumers don't need to necessarily change their consumption.
"It is not the ultimate seal of approval for recommending whole-fat dairy over its low-fat or skimmed counterparts," they wrote. "Readers should be cautious, and treat this study only as yet another piece of the evidence [albeit a large one] in the literature."