Parkinson’s Risk Increased by…Low Fat Milk?

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When was the last time you had a tall glass of whole milk? Not the 2% stuff, not the 1% stuff, and certainly not the you-can-barely-call-it-milk skim stuff—but real full fat whole milk? If you’re one of the American majority, you probably don’t remember because you’ve been under the spell of the low fat craze for years or even decades. If, on the other hand, you can’t remember the last time you had low fat milk, or low fat anything for that matter, good for you—you’ve been doing your research. In fact, a new study linking low fat milk and Parkinson’s Disease found you may be lowering your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease if you’re in the full fat dairy camp.

A Brief Look at Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative neurological disease that stems from injured nerve cells in the substantia nigra area of the brain, affecting the body’s coordination and motor skills. Symptoms gradually worsen with age and can vary depending on the person, but common symptoms involve slow movements, freezing while attempting to walk, slurring of speech, tremors, lack of expression, dementia, and more. Treatments can help manage it, especially early in the diagnosis, but as the disease advances, they are less effective. According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, there are 1 million people in the United States with the disease, and over 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

While we know how Parkinson’s happens (the injured nerve cells mentioned above), we don’t really know why (what causes the injury to the nerve cells). Theories and studies link to everything from genetics to traumatic injuries to environmental toxins. And, now, as the new study suggests, a diet consisting of low fat dairy, particularly milk.

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The Study Linking Low Fat Milk and Parkinson’s Disease

The study investigators set out to determine if there was any association between Parkinson’s disease and the consumption of dairy (including milk, butter, cream cheese, and other dairy products). There were 129,346 subjects, with 48,610 being male. The duration of the study was 24–26 years and consisted of subjects completing mailed health questionnaires every 2 years and diet questionnaires repeatedly throughout the study. A total of 1,036 subjects developed Parkinson’s over this time period.

The result? Subjects who consumed high amounts (at least three servings per day) of low fat and skim milk were 34% more likely to develop Parkinson’s than those who consumed less than a serving a day. The more telling part of this study was the fact that the study found no link between Parkinson’s disease and the consumption of full fat milk and other dairy products.

While the study shows a connection between low fat milk and Parkinson’s disease, it doesn’t investigate cause, so it still doesn’t give us a why. One possibility could be a study we covered a few months ago suggesting that Parkinson’s actually starts in the gut and moves to the brain as the unique gut bacteria of Parkinson’s patients have been found to house damaging fibers from the nerves in the brain. The study concluded that alterations in gut bacteria could increase the risk for Parkinson’s. Our bad gut bacteria typically thrive on low fat diets because low fat doesn’t satiate us so we have to turn to something else to satisfy hunger—traditionally, that’s been grains, sugars, and other inflammatory foods, all the things our bad gut bacteria love.

Parkinson’s Risk Isn’t the Only Reason to Snub Low Fat Diets

Let’s look at some of the reasons we recommend snubbing those low fat diets:

The upshot? The low fat milk and Parkinson’s connection is just one more on a very long list of reasons low fat is bad for you. More studies will likely spinoff from this one, but the news, yet again, certainly isn’t good for low fat milk drinkers. And the more low fat milk you consume, according to this study, the greater your chance of developing Parkinson’s. If you haven’t said no to low fat milk yet, it’s time. Embrace a diet based on healthy fats (including full fat milk) that properly fuel your body, feed your gut good bacteria, and possibly even decrease your risk of Parkinson’s.

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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