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Benefits and Dangers Effects of Dairy Consumption on Aging Adults

Beverley has a degree in Science and additional certifications in nutrition and aromatherapy. She's published on and offline.

Got Milk Sign

Got Milk Sign

By 2030, the United States (U.S.) is expecting 72 million of its citizens to be age 65 and older. That statistic comes from an online magazine on dairy foods. Aging is usually accompanied by health issues such as fragile bones, loss of muscle mass, metabolic (cancer), cardiovascular and neurocognitive dysfunction, chronic diseases, skin changes, and obesity.

The dairy industry recently increased research to determine the benefits, if any, dairy consumption may have on aging individuals. Past studies have mostly looked into the dangers of eating dairy products. While evidence implies that the high and saturated fat content in these foods may promote diseases in the elderly, researchers have found evidence to claim that dairy consumption may support great health as well.

This article covers findings on both the potential detriments and the potential benefits the consumption of dairy may have on aging bodies.

Human Skeleton

Human Skeleton

Effects of Aging on Bone

Estimates are that by 2025, osteoporosis-related fractures will cost about 25 billion dollars in health care. As one ages, bone density decreases because of the decline in function, production, and reabsorption of bone cells: osteoblasts, osteoclasts, and osteocytes. This later leads to osteoporosis and chronic inflammatory osteoarthritis. Studies indicate that by age 70, up to 40 percent of bone mass could be lost. How does dairy consumption affect aging human bones?

Kefir

Kefir

Benefits of Dairy on the Bones of Aging Adults

Research shows that consuming dairy products such as yogurt may lower inflammation production in bone tissue. But scientists have yet to determine which ingredients are directly responsible and in what quantity. They believe that protein is necessary for good bone health since bone is composed of 50 percent protein and one-third of bone mass. The intake of vitamin D and calcium also seem to help, at least in delaying osteoporosis.

Other studies, such as one conducted by researchers at the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife, associated with Harvard Medical school, imply that certain dairy foods, mainly yogurt and milk, promote high mineral content in certain bones like the hip. The large content makes them stronger.

Human bones (Barclay Mitchell Skeletons)

Human bones (Barclay Mitchell Skeletons)

Dangers of Dairy on the Bones of Aging Adults

The studies at the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife also found that foods like cream may decrease the mineral content of our skeletal frame, and increase the onset of osteoporosis. The loss of bone mass and strength tends to be permanent. Falls and fractures are quite common in people with thin, fragile bones.

Dr. Shivani Sahni, an expert in musculoskeletal research suggests that the high saturated fat and sugar content in cream and cream foods may have a negative impact on bone health and strength.

And though dietary protein may be important, some studies indicate that it too could inversely affect certain bones and other bodily functions, especially in the long term.

Stick figure

Stick figure

Effects of Aging on Muscle

As we age, we develop not only bone loss but sarcopenia or loss of muscle tissue, strength, and function as well. Studies found that inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction play critical roles.

Sarcopenia and frailty are also promoted by obesity, which results from fat accumulation within muscle mass and insulin resistance.

What’s the effect of dairy consumption?

Elderly man running

Elderly man running

Benefits of Dairy on the Muscles of Aging Adults

Consuming dairy products may minimize sarcopenia. The whey proteins, which are high in the amino acid leucine, support muscle tissue growth and repair, according to research. Proteins may also stave off inflammation. Studies show that the mineral calcium also has the potential to delay sarcopenia.

Vitamin D in dairy products may promote muscle strength and muscle mass.


Cream cheese

Cream cheese

Dangers of Dairy on the Muscles of Aging Adults

To date, research on the consumption of dairy and sarcopenia indicates that any inefficacies may be quantity-related. More research is needed for conclusive evidence.

Pregnant woman

Pregnant woman

Old fat man

Old fat man

Effects of Aging on Metabolic Health

We’re not only subjected to declining function and tissues of our musculoskeletal framework during the aging process, but also the increased risk of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, cancer, and obesity. Research implies that the degree of risk depends on the long-term accumulation of such factors as mitochondrial damage, chronic inflammation, and oxidative stress.

These factors may begin at prebirth with malnutrition and other environmental causes. Metabolic syndrome or diseases can also lead to cardiovascular concerns. To what extent, if any, will dairy foods impact the development of metabolic syndrome in aging adults?

The Truth About Dairy, Milton Mills, MD by bananiac

Benefits of Dairy on the Metabolic Health of Aging Adults

Studies imply vitamin D deficiency may be related to the occurrence of many of these metabolic diseases. If so, consuming dairy products with a high vitamin D content, may benefit.

Increased consumption of calcium also seems to lower the risk of metabolic issues. One study on women and men who consumed milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese, showed positive results from a higher calcium intake.

Butter

Butter

Dangers of Dairy on the Metabolic Health of Aging Adults

The saturated fats in dairy foods have been shown to increase the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers such as breast and ovarian cancers in women, prostate cancer in men as well as colorectal, bladder, and gastric cancers.

One study on women found that those who consumed dairy, cheese, in particular, demonstrated a higher percentage of risk for breast cancer than those who did not. Similarly, a number of studies on men who consumed various dairy products showed a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.

Ten warning Signs of Alzheimer's Disease by Melissa BPhD

Effects of Aging on Neurocognitive Health

The decline in neurocognitive function has also proven to be a function of aging. It ranges from dementia to Alzheimer’s disease. Like other age-related diseases and conditions, the current body of research on the effect of dairy consumption is mixed. More studies are needed for better determinations. Here’s what we know so far.

Yogurt

Yogurt

Benefits of Dairy on the Neurocognitive Health of Aging Adults

Some research suggests that the positive impact of cheese, yogurt, milk, and other dairy products on the metabolic functions associated with the cardiovascular system, insulin function, and glucose regulation also positively affected neurocognitive health. Calcium, whey protein, proline peptides, vitamin B 12, and other constituents may be responsible.

Ice cream

Ice cream

Dangers of Dairy on the Neurocognitive Health of Aging Adults

On the other hand, studies conducted and collectively reviewed between 2009 and 2018, implied that the intake of dairy products may cause cognitive decline in older adults, especially older women. The products consumed in these studies, however, were dairy desserts with high-fat content such as ice cream.

Old woman with wrinkles

Old woman with wrinkles

Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens

Effects of Aging on Skin

As we age, our skin, just like any other organ, undergoes changes. It wrinkles, becomes saggy, thin, dry, leathery, develops age spots, and that’s not all! The degree and type of internal and external changes depend on gender and gene pool. But what’s the impact of dairy intake?

The results of tests conducted on dairy consumption were influenced by the constituents in the particular product used.

Nutrition and Older Adults by AllHealthGo

Benefits of Dairy on Skin Health in Aging Adults

Milk and dairy foods are rich in minerals calcium and zinc, vitamins A, B12, B2, and D, and protein, all of which are important for healthy skin. Nutritionists have found that low-fat dairy products may help prevent wrinkles.

A glass of milk

A glass of milk

Dangers of Dairy on Skin Health in Aging Adults

Dairy food intake may cause inflammation, and inflammation causes oxidative stress. This leads to the production of free radicals, which has been shown to speed up the aging process.

Dairy Consumption by Humans

Bottom Line

It’s a fact that aging promotes a decline in body function and appearance. It’s a fact that dairy contains nutrients that are healthy and unhealthy for human consumption. It really depends on conditions such as how the cows were raised, how the products were manufactured, type, quality, and nutrient composition. And less we forget, there’s the recitation that humans are the only animals that drink the milk of other animals. But this custom traces back thousands of years, starting with the onset of agriculture.

Though further research is clearly needed, the bottom line seems to be that the aging adult may benefit from consuming dairy foods with high contents of good nutrients: vitamin D, A, B, calcium, zinc, and protein, and not so much from dairy products high in fats, especially saturated fats like cream.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Beverley Byer

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