3 Glasses Of Milk A Day May Keep Dementia Away: Antioxidants In Milk Protect Brain Cells

milk
A new study claims that drinking plenty of milk can help fight off Alzheimer's, but how true is that claim? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

We already know that milk is important for infants, growing adolescents, and even adults in receiving essential levels of calcium, potassium, vitamin B-12, among other nutrients. Milk keeps your bones and teeth strong — and even aids in sleep. But could drinking loads of milk have an impact on the brain and stave off dementias like Alzheimer’s disease?

A new study out of the University of Kansas Medical Center claims that it does. Drinking three glasses of milk a day, the researchers argue, fights dementia by providing you with higher levels of an antioxidant called glutathione, which protects your brain cells.

“We have long thought of milk as being very important for your bones and very important for your muscles,” Dr. Debra Sullivan, an author of the study, said in the press release. “This study suggests that it could be important for your brain as well.”

Fighting Oxidative Stress

The study examined 60 participants, and asked them to report on their diets in the days leading up to brain scans. The researchers found that the people who had recently drunk more milk actually showed higher levels of glutathione in their brains — which helps fight oxidative stress, something that is often linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or other dementia-related diseases.

Oxidative stress occurs when the balance between free radicals that damage your brain, and the body’s counteractive properties that fight them off, is destabilized. Oxidative stress has been linked to a variety of disorders beyond dementia, including gene mutations, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart problems, and inflammatory diseases.

The authors of the milk study explain that oxidative stress causes damage “like the buildup of rust on your car,” Sullivan said in the press release. “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.”

A past study, published in 2014, found that an increased milk and dairy intake had a similar effect on the general Japanese population. The authors found that milk reduced the risk of dementia — particularly Alzheimer’s — among elderly participants.

Unclear Results

So should you start drinking a lot more milk (given you’re not lactose-intolerant)? First, we must take into account that this study will need to be backed up by more research: particularly a randomized, controlled trial to figure out the exact effects of milk on the brain. The researchers plan on doing that in their next steps.

However, the NHS has released a statement noting that the study’s title is misleading and should not be taken too seriously. It’s unclear, the NHS states, whether milk has any protective effects on the brain — or if glutathione itself has any beneficial effects.

“The level of glutathione was determined once, at the same time as participants were asked about their diets,” the NHS writes. “This study therefore cannot tell us that a high-dairy diet caused the increased levels of glutathione. It is also unable to show what happens to glutathione levels over time or whether the higher levels are protective. So, all in all, this study proves little.”

It turns out that research about glutathione is still in its early stages. While this study may claim it’s protective, no one is entirely sure whether that’s true.

In the meantime, milk certainly can’t be a bad addition to your diet. So along with drinking more milk, be sure to eat other foods that are rich in nutrients — like salmon and oily fish, cruciferous vegetables, nuts, and even dark chocolate. These are all known to be filled with anti-oxidants as well as other nutrients that benefit your health.

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