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Milk and your brain

We know milk is good for us, but did you know that it can even improve and preserve brain power?

A recent study conducted by a team of researchers at the Hoglund Brain Imaging Centre of Kansas University (KU) Medical Centre, has identified a link between dairy product intake and the concentration of glutathione in brain tissue of healthy, elderly adults.

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant which plays a vital role in protecting the human brain against reactive oxygen species (ROS) and free radicals that can damage brain tissue and lead to so-called “oxidative stress”. Oxidative stress is associated with a variety of diseases including those that affect brain functioning, like  Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and dementia among others.

Scientists have known for a long time that ROS are elevated when humans develop diseases of the brain including
Alzheimer’s, and also with increasing age. In addition, levels of glutathione tend to decrease significantly in older
adults. It has, therefore, been the goal of researchers to seek compounds such as nutrients which could increase
glutathione levels in the brain to combat ROS and oxidative stress, and thereby prevent brain cell damage and
degenerative brain diseases.

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Preliminary studies identified dairy products as the only foods that increased glutathione levels in brain tissue. The KU team set out to trace glutathione levels in three different areas of the brain in 60 healthy subjects (21 men and 39 women) with an average age of approximately 69 years.

The dietary intake of the subjects was monitored with the aid of 7-day records to classify the subjects into three categories, namely low (<1 serving of dairy/day), moderate (1-2 servings of dairy/day) and recommended (≥3 servings dairy/day). The subjects were also instructed to stop taking any supplements that could influence the glutathione levels in their brains.

A statistical analysis was carried out to investigate if glutathione concentrations as determined with MR CSI in brain tissue were correlated with the subjects’ intakes of milk, cheese and yoghurt, and the most important nutrients supplied by dairy foods (calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin).

The results showed that glutathione concentrations were highest in the group of healthy elderly subjects who
consumed the most milk (in all 3 regions of the brain) and cheese (in the parietal region). These results support the findings of another study, namely that the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is rich in dairy food, was associated with increased plasma levels of glutathione.

To date the finding that older individuals have lower glutathione concentrations in their brain tissue has been
attributed to lower glutathione synthesis and greater oxidative stress. In the light of the present results, it is possible that older people lack glutathione to protect their brain cells because they do not consume sufficient dairy, particularly milk.

The KU study will hopefully lead to more detailed research to define the role of milk and dairy in brain health. This is indeed a point to ponder for the future of the global population with its ever increasing percentage of older citizens who often suffer from brain damage caused by oxidative stress. Milk intake may well protect our brains against this kind of degeneration as we age.

For more information about the benefits of dairy, visit Rediscover Dairy.

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