Drinking three glasses of milk a day could help stave off diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, say researchers.
A new US study shows a link between milk consumption and higher levels of a naturally-occurring antioxidant called glutathione in the brain in older, healthy adults.
The powerful antioxidant may minimise damage to brain cells from free radicals, destructive groups of atoms made as a by-product of metabolism that can damage cells.
Antioxidants help to neutralise this type of oxidative stress in the body.
The study was carried out at the University of Kansas Medical Center by associate professor of neurology In-Young Choi and Debra Sullivan, professor and chair of dietetics and nutrition.
Dr Sullivan said ‘We have long thought of milk as being very important for your bones and very important for your muscles.
‘This study suggests that it could be important for your brain as well.’
Altogether 60 adults enrolled in the study were asked about their diets in the days leading up to brain scans to monitor levels of glutathione in the brain.
The researchers found those who said they had drunk milk recently had more glutathione in their brains.
Those who drank around three glasses a day had highest levels, says a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (must credit).
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, say the researchers.
Dr Choi said ‘Antioxidants are a built-in defence 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.’
Dr Sullivan said ‘You can basically think of this damage like the build up of rust on your car.
‘If left alone for a long time, the build up increases and it can cause damaging effects.
‘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.’
For the study, researchers used high-tech brain scanning equipment housed at KU Medical Center’s Hoglund Brain Imaging Center.
Dr Choi said ‘Our equipment enables us to understand complex processes occurring that are related to health and disease.
‘The advanced magnetic resonance technology allowed us to be in a unique position to get the best pictures of what was going on in the brain.’
An editorial in the journal said the study presented ‘a provocative new benefit of the consumption of milk in older individuals’.
There have been mixed findings in studies on the health benefits of milk.
A study from Oxford University suggested milk drinking might mitigate neurological damage leading to diseases such as Alzheimer’s due to its vitamin B12 content.
A randomised, controlled trial that seeks to determine the precise effect of milk consumption on the brain is still needed and is a logical next step, the researchers said.