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Should You Drink Milk and Eat Dairy Products?

In this month's issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is a debate on whether milk causes cancer, heart attacks and a shortened life span (March 25, 2009). Dr. Amy Lanou of the University of North Carolina in Asheville, NC, writes that you don't need milk to be healthy. There is little evidence that the calcium in milk prevents osteoporosis. Osteoporotic bone fracture rates are highest in countries that consume the most dairy products, and most studies of fracture risk provide no evidence that dairy products benefit bone. But Dr. Connie Weaver of Purdue University claims that studies show that dairy products are associated with reduced risk of stroke, metabolic syndrome, and some cancers. She does admit that dairy products can elevate blood levels of insulin-like growth factor (a cancer promoter), and that the high calcium content of milk can reduce blood levels of active 1,25 dihydroxy vitamin D (a cancer preventer).

The issue is far from settled. Extensive theoretical evidence shows that whole milk dairy products are full of saturated fat and cholesterol that may increase risk for heart attacks. We do not know if dairy products really increase cancer risk.

Professor Ajit Varki, of U Cal/San Diego, proposes a theory to explain why eating meat, which contains Neu5Gc, increases risk for cancers, heart attacks and arthritis. If his theory is correct, dairy products should also be linked to these diseases because milk also contains Neu5Gc, although in much smaller amounts (meat has seven times more Neu5Gc than dairy products). For more on this, see the eZines from November 9 and November 16, 2008, and March 29, 2009.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: My blood pressure is over 140 just before I go to bed at night. What can I do to lower it?

It is normal to have a blood pressure that dips 15 to 30 percent before you go to bed. High blood pressure is defined as above 120 mm of mercury. People who have high blood pressure (greater than 120) during the day and less than 120 before they go to bed are not at high risk for heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, those whose blood pressures do not dip and are above 120 before they go to bed are at high risk for heart failure, heart attacks and strokes.

Exercise uniquely helps to lower high blood pressure at night. A recent study from John Moores University in Liverpool, UK shows that the greater the intensity of exercise, the greater the lowering of blood pressure at night (International Journal of Sports Medicine, February 2009). Furthermore, taking blood pressure medication at night, instead of in the morning, is also more effective in controlling high blood pressure (American Journal of Kidney Diseases, December 2007). So get plenty of exercise, and if your doctor has prescribed blood pressure medication, take it at night.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: How do fruits and vegetables prevent cancers and heart attacks?

Dr. Peter Elwood of the University of Cardiff in the UK presents a very strong argument that salicyclates in fruit and vegetables, and not antioxidants, prevent heart attacks and cancers in the same way that a salicyclate called aspirin does (Lancet, March 27, 2009). Aspirin prevents inflammation and clotting that starts a heart attack, and has been shown to help prevent several different cancers, particularly colon cancer. Fruits and vegetables prevent all of the diseases that aspirin does. Vegetarians have lower rates of cancer and higher blood salicylate levels. Many herbs and spices are also very good sources of salicylates. Societies that eat lots of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices tend to have low cancer rates.

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Recipe of the Week:

How to Cook Eggplant in your Microwave Oven

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

June 22nd, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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