KUOPIO, Finland — A study by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland found that fermented dairy products — such as cheese, yogurt, quark, kefir, or sour milk — may lower the risk of incident coronary heart disease in men. Conversely, the researchers warn that a very high consumption rate of non-fermented dairy products, like milk, could have the opposite effect and increase a man’s risk for heart disease.

Previous research has proven that fermented dairy products have more positive effects on blood lipid profiles and the risk of heart disease than other dairy products, but there’s been little research into the health benefits of these products.

For the study, 1,981 men participated in the ongoing Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, which explored the associations of fermented and non-fermented dairy products with incident coronary heart disease. The dietary habits of the study participants were assessed at the beginning of the study, between 1984 and 1989. They were followed up for an average of 20 years. During the follow-ups, 472 men experienced an incident coronary heart disease event, such as a heart attack.

The participants were divided into four groups based on how many fermented dairy products they ate. The researchers compared the groups with the highest and lowest consumption levels and took lifestyle and nutrition factors into consideration.

For participants who consumed fermented dairy products with less than 3.5% fat content, the risk of heart attack was 26% lower in the highest consumption group compared to the lowest consumption group. Sour milk was the most commonly consumed low-fat fermented dairy product, but the consumption of high-fat products, like cheese, wasn’t associated with a high risk of coronary heart disease.

More research is needed to determine why the effect differs between fermented and non-fermented dairy items, but the authors believe the fermentation process may yield compounds with healthier benefits.

The study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

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