Contrary to conventional beliefs, individuals with lactose intolerance might find a surprising ally in milk consumption when it comes to warding off diabetes, according to a recent study examining the correlation between genetic variants and the impact of milk on diabetes risk.
The complex relationship between milk consumption and diabetes risk has been explored in previous studies, yielding mixed results. While some studies suggested a connection, others did not, and positive effects were often attributed solely to the consumption of low-fat dairy products.
In an attempt to unravel this variability and assess potential genetic factors, a team of 20 researchers from various institutions in the US and China conducted a comprehensive review involving approximately 12,000 Hispanic adults. The study focused on individuals participating in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, a project initiated in 2006 that has tracked health data for over 16,000 Hispanic individuals over the years.
To explore the potential genetic basis for the mixed findings regarding dairy and diabetes, the researchers conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS). This method involves searching for genetic explanations for specific traits. The key discovery was that individuals with a genetic variant associated with lactose intolerance, referred to as lactase non-persistent (LNP), exhibited a 30% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes when regularly consuming milk. To substantiate these findings, the researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank, involving 160,000 people, and found a consistent link.
While these results open up new perspectives, questions arise regarding the risk-to-reward ratio in terms of overall health. Is the consumption of a substance that the body struggles to digest justified in reducing the risk of a disease that an individual might not even develop? According to Lonneke Janssen Duijghuijsen, a nutrition and health researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the study, the answer depends on the individual.
He notes that just because you’re lactose intolerant doesn’t mean that you can’t consume any amount of lactose. In fact, you can generally consume about 12 grams of lactose per day without having any issues. That’s about as much lactose as there is in a large glass of milk.
Duijghuijsen led a separate study in December, revealing that LNP individuals who consumed milk experienced changes in their gut microbiome due to the breakdown of lactose in their intestines. While these microbiome changes may contribute to the metabolic effects observed, Duijghuijsen emphasizes the need for more research to firmly establish a causative link between milk consumption in LNP individuals and the risk of developing diabetes while ruling out other contributing factors.
He’s also quick to note that the study isn’t a dietary guideline. Rather, it just shows the potential impact of milk on a very specific segment of the population.