Got Dairy?

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Dairy products may play a role in preserving muscle mass

August 8, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) As people get older, they tend to lose muscle mass and are at an increased risk for fractures and other injuries. Eating and drinking more dairy may help protect older folks from such risks.

A recent study found that older women who consumed more dairy had more muscle mass and greater physical performance than women who consumed less dairy.

"Ask your doctor about how to create a healthy diet."

This study was led by Kun Zhu, PhD, in the Department of Endocrinology and Diabetes in Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital in Nedlands, Western Australia. The research team examined whether dairy intake was associated with body composition and physical performance. A total of 1,456 women, between the ages of 70 and 85, were involved in this study.

Dairy consumption was measured using a food frequency survey. Participants reported how much dairy (milk, yogurt and cheese) they consumed in the past 12 months, as well as the portion sizes.

Based on the amount of dairy consumed, participants were split into three categories: less than 1.5 servings per day, 1.5 to 2.2 servings per day and more than 2.2 servings per day.

Body weight, height, BMI (body mass index) and body composition (lean mass and fat mass) measurements were taken for each of the participants. For this study lean mass was defined as the weight of everything in the body except for the weight of the bones, fat and head.

Physical performance was determined by measuring hand grip strength and mobility (movement). Participants were also asked to report the number of falls they had had within the past three months.

The researchers took into account physical activity and smoking status when analyzing their findings.

The researchers found that women who had 1.5 or more servings of dairy per day had significantly greater whole body lean mass and skeletal muscle mass than women who had less than 1.5 servings per day. The also found that hand grip strength was greater in women who had 2.2 servings of dairy a day compared to women who had less than this amount.

The researchers did not find an association between the amount of time it took to complete a mobility test and dairy intake. There was also no significant association found between dairy intake and number of falls.

Deborah Gordon, MD, a nutrition and preventive medicine expert not associated with the study told dailyRX news, "A number of interesting correlations appear in the details of this study: the women who consumed more dairy (712 grams or about 25 ounces) were found to differ in several ways from the group of women who consumed the lowest amount of dairy (210 grams or about 7.4 ounces). Dairy lovers as a group also ate more calories, more fat, more protein - the protein difference being primarily in dairy protein. They were less likely to drink regularly. They engaged in significantly more physical activity than the dairy minimizers." 

Dr. Gordon noted that, "Some degree of sarcopenia [muscle loss] is inevitable with aging, but the extent to which it can be minimized and possibly reversed is the extent to which a woman will feel vigorous and stay vital as she ages. I will carry from this study the suggestion that a healthy appetite, well-matched with regular physical activity, is the best investment a woman can make in sturdiness with aging.

Based on their findings, the study authors concluded that dairy may be connected to more lean mass and better physical performance in older women.

This study appears online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

This study was funded by research grants from Healthway (the Western Australia Health Promotion Foundation), the Australasian Menopause Society, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Dairy Health and Nutrition Consortium.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.