Frequent low-fat dairy consumption may increase Parkinson’s disease risk

Consuming three or more servings of low-fat dairy each day was associated with a higher risk of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in a large study of U.S. men and women, according to a new paper by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers and colleagues. In addition, drinking more than a single serving of low-fat or skim milk daily appeared to increase the risk compared to those who drink less than a serving per week. The authors did not find a PD association with full-fat dairy consumption.

The study was published in the June 7, 2017 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, and will appear in the July 4, 2017 print issue.

The authors emphasized in the study that the findings do not show that dairy products cause Parkinson’s disease, but point to an association. More research is needed before recommendations can be made about dairy consumption.

“Our study is the largest analysis of dairy and Parkinson’s to date,” said lead author Katherine Hughes of Harvard Chan School in a press release. “The results provide evidence of a modest increased risk of Parkinson’s with greater consumption of low-fat dairy products. Such dairy products, which are widely consumed, could potentially be a modifiable risk factor for the disease.”

The study included 25-years of data from 129,346 participants from two large long-term studies—the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study (HPFS)—who answered questionnaires every few years about their diet, lifestyle, and health.

“The differences in absolute risk are modest, since the overall risk of developing PD is low. I think physicians should keep this in mind when counseling their patients,” Hughes said in a June 8, MedPage Today article. “And for patients who already have PD, unfortunately our results can’t speak to whether dairy may or may not be associated with the progression of disease,” she said, adding that this would be an interesting area for future research.

Other Harvard Chan School authors included: Xiang Gao, Iris Kim, Molin Wang, Marc Weisskopf, and Alberto Ascherio, senior author.

Read the American Academy of Neurology press release: Does consuming low-fat dairy increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease?

Read the MedPage Today article: Low-Fat Dairy Linked to Small Increased Risk for PD

Read a June 9, 2017 CBS News article: Low-fat dairy foods linked to Parkinson’s risk, study suggests

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