Ready for a shocking statistic? According to research led by professor Peter Elwood of Cardiff University, drinking milk can lessen the chances of dying from illnesses such as coronary heart disease and stroke by up to 15 to 20 percent.
This research—a systematic review of evidence from 324 published studies—is actually the first time that disease risk associated with drinking milk has been looked at in relation to deaths from those diseases.
However, there are conflicting studies that claim milk actually contributes to disease, specifically heart disease. What about them? "The fact that milk-drinking raises cholesterol is, for many people, proof that milk is a cause of heart disease," Elwood says. "But cholesterol is only one mechanism in heart disease. Blood pressure is another relevant mechanism, and milk-drinking is associated with a lower blood pressure. It is therefore totally unreasonable to base conclusions about milk and heart disease on the effect on cholesterol alone."
Heart disease isn't the only thing that can be affected by milk. Elwood says that analysis of large, long-term studies shows that milk and dairy consumption are associated with a small reduction in death from heart disease events, strokes, new cases of type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and possibly bladder cancer.
"As heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer are major sources of healthcare expenditure, any measure that is associated with a reduction in these diseases—however small that reduction is—is also bound to have an impact on healthcare costs," Elwood says.
How Much Milk?
To get the full benefits of milk, including the nine essential nutrients, the USDA says adults should consume three servings of milk (or cheese or yogurt) each day. A serving size is 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese. So, go ahead—drink your milk. It's good for you.