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Milk, not just for your bones, for your brain

cow milk

Milk, depending on who you ask it’s either great or the devil. In the US drinking milk is common; not so much in other parts of the world. This has lead to questions about why we even drink milk and how real its reported health claims actually are. Well new research has found a correlation between milk consumption and the levels of a naturally-occurring antioxidant called glutathione in the brain in older, healthy adults.

“We have long thought of milk as being very important for your bones and very important for your muscles,” Debra Sullivan, Ph.D. said.

“This study suggests that it could be important for your brain as well.”

The team asked the 60 participants in the study about their diets in the days leading up to brain scans, which they used to monitor levels of glutathione – a powerful antioxidant – in the brain.

The researchers found that participants who had indicated they had drunk milk recently had higher levels of glutathione in their brains. This is important, the researchers said, because glutathione could help stave off oxidative stress and the resulting damage caused by reactive chemical compounds produced during the normal metabolic process in the brain. Oxidative stress is known to be associated with a number of different diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and many other conditions.

“You can basically think of this damage like the buildup of rust on your car,” Sullivan said. “If left alone for a long time, the buildup increases and it can cause damaging effects.”

Few Americans reach the recommended daily intake of three dairy servings per day. The new study showed that the closer older adults came to those servings, the higher their levels of glutathione were.

“If we can find a way to fight this by instituting lifestyle changes including diet and exercise, it could have major implications for brain health,” In-Young Choi, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology, said.

“Antioxidants are a built-in defense system for our body to fight against this damage, and the levels of antioxidants in our brain can be regulated by various factors such as diseases and lifestyle choices,” Choi said.

For the study, researchers used new high-tech brain scanning equipment and a technique called magnetic resonance chemical shift imaging.

“Our equipment enables us to understand complex processes occurring that are related to health and disease,” Choi said.

“The advanced magnetic resonance technology allowed us to be in a unique position to get the best pictures of what was going on in the brain.”

A randomized, controlled trial that seeks to determine the precise effect of milk consumption on the brain is still needed and is a logical next step to this study, the researchers said. In short, if that higher concentration of antioxidants is good, neutral, or bad, has yet to be determined. While the higher concentration should be a good thing, as shown in other research, antioxidants don’t always mean healthy.

Sources:
Choi, I., Lee, P., Denney, D., Spaeth, K., Nast, O., Ptomey, L., Roth, A., Lierman, J., & Sullivan, D. (2014). Dairy intake is associated with brain glutathione concentration in older adults American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101 (2), 287-293 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.114.096701

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