Older adults who drink milk tend to have higher levels of the naturally occurring antioxidant called glutathione in the brain.
“We have long thought of milk as being very important for your bones and very important for your muscles,” says Debra Sullivan, professor and chair of dietetics and nutrition at the University of Kansas. “This study suggests that it could be important for your brain as well.”
Researchers 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 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 say, 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.
Like rust on a car
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, says In-Young Choi, an associate professor of neurology and coauthor of the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
“You can basically think of this damage like the buildup of rust on your car,” Sullivan says. “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, Sullivan adds. The new study shows 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,” Choi says.
An editorial in the same edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says the study presents “a provocative new benefit of the consumption of milk in older individuals,” and served as a starting point for further study of the issue.
“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 says.
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 note.
The Dairy Research Institute funded the study.
Source: University of Kansas