Dairy fountain of youth? Drinking skim or 1% milk can add years to lifespan

PROVO, Utah — Think very carefully the next time you enter the dairy aisle in the supermarket, the right decision may just add years to your life. That’s right, according to a new study conducted at Brigham Young University, drinking low-fat milk (either skim or 1%) may significantly lengthen a person’s lifespan.

Those who regularly drink low-fat milk experience up to four-and-a-half years less biological aging than people who drink 2% milk. Drinking whole milk is associated with an ever more rapid aging process. Researchers came to these conclusions after examining the milk consumption habits of 5,834 U.S. adults.

“It was surprising how strong the difference was,” comments exercise science professor Larry Tucker, Ph.D., in a release. “If you’re going to drink high-fat milk, you should be aware that doing so is predictive of or related to some significant consequences.”

The study looked into the relationship between telomere length and both milk consumption frequency (how often one drinks milk) and type of milk usually ingested (whole, 2%, 1%, skim). Telomeres are the end-caps of human chromosomes, and are extremely correlated with age, essentially serving as a biological clock of sorts. Each time a cell replicates, which happens as we all age, humans lose a little more of their telomeres. So, the older a person becomes, the shorter their telomeres.

Researchers noted that the more high-fat milk a person drank, the shorter their telomeres were; for every 1% increase in milk fat consumed (essentially opting to drink 2% milk instead of 1% milk), telomeres were 69 base pairs shorter among study participants. Those numbers work out to more than four years in biological aging. Furthermore, adults’ telomeres who usually drink whole milk were a full 145 base pairs shorter than those who usually drink skim milk.

Close to half of included study participants reported drinking milk on a daily basis, and an additional 25% said they drink milk at least weekly. Broken down by type of milk typically consumed, slightly under a third usually drank whole milk, 30% consumed 2% milk, 10% preferred 1% milk, and 17% went for skim milk. An additional 13% said they don’t usually drink any cow milk.

“Milk is probably the most controversial food in our country,” Tucker says. “If someone asked me to put together a presentation on the value of drinking milk, I could put together a 1-hour presentation that would knock your socks off. You’d think, ‘Whoa, everybody should be drinking more milk.’ If someone said do the opposite, I could also do that. At the very least, the findings of this study are definitely worth pondering. Maybe there’s something here that requires a little more attention.”

Researchers were also surprised to note that those who stayed away from cow milk in general actually had shorter telomeres than adults drinking low-fat milk.

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that U.S. adults drink skim or 1% milk and stay away from higher-fat milk options. All in all, Tucker says his findings support that recommendation.

“It’s not a bad thing to drink milk,” Tucker concludes. “You should just be more aware of what type of milk you are drinking.”

The study is published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.

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