Yogurt May Cut Type 2 Diabetes Risk
Yogurt has approached wonder-food status in recent years, as studies have suggested that it may help everything from irritable bowel syndrome to depression to high blood pressure. Now, research out in BMC Medicine suggests it’s also linked to lower risk for type 2 diabetes, a disease that currently affects some 366 million people worldwide, and is expected to affect many millions more by the year 2030. In the new study, other forms of dairy like milk and cheese, did not offer the same kind of protection as yogurt for diabetes risk. Which sounds like good news for yogurt devotees — as long as you don’t mind the fact that no one quite understands how the relationship works.
The study culled data from 41,497 participants from the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study, which included male dentists, pharmacists, veterinarians, osteopathic physicians and podiatrists; 67,138 from the Nurses’ Health Study; and 85,884 from Nurses’ Health Study II. Participants were queried every two years about their dietary habits and followed for up to 30 years to determine their health outcomes.
Over 15,000 of the three studies’ participants developed diabetes over the years. There was no correlation between dairy consumption and diabetes risk at all — with one exception: Yogurt was linked to a significantly lower risk of diabetes. And this was true even after controlling for factors known to be linked to diabetes like body mass index (BMI) and diet. The team then pulled in data from previous studies to add to theirs, and calculated that 28 grams of yogurt per day was linked to an 18% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Other research has pointed to a similar connection between yogurt and diabetes. The problem is that no one quite understands why the link exists. But there are some theories: Frank Hu, the study’s lead author and researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, tells me that “The mechanisms are not well understood at this point. One hypothesis is that the probiotics in yogurt may help to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation, but this hypothesis needs to be tested in randomized clinical trials.” He adds that other theories suggest that it’s simply the high protein content of yogurt that can increase satiety and reduce the sensation of hunger. “Several studies have found that higher yogurt consumption improves body weight.” But there seems to be more going on than just body weight: It could be the magnesium, calcium, or whey in yogurt that leads to improved metabolic health and therefore a reduced risk of diabetes.
Or it could be much simpler. “It is also possible that yogurt consumption is just a marker of a healthy diet and lifestyle,” says Hu. In other words, people who eat more yogurt may also just eat better in general, have healthier body weights, not smoke, and exercise more – all the things that are known to reduce diabetes risk. Hu points out that while the study tried to control for these factors, it’s always a possibility that what researchers think they’re studying is really just a marker of other things.
More research will obviously be needed, but it’s certainly possible that the separate components of yogurt — probiotics or minerals — might reduce diabetes risk. Earlier this month a study reported that milk itself was linked to bone fracture — but fermented dairy products like yogurt and cheese were not. A little yogurt every day is probably not a bad thing: Just don’t consume it at the expense of doing the things we know reduce diabetes risk, like eating a plant-based diet, exercising regularly, and keeping a healthy body weight. Those habits not only reduce diabetes risk, but they are linked with a host of other long-term health benefits, and a longer life. And though yogurt may have its own benefits, wonder-food or not, it’s pretty hard to top that.
For more information on reducing the risk for diabetes, see the American Diabetes Association website on risk.