MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr Nita Forouhi, MRCP, PhD, FFPHM
Programme Lead & Consultant Public Health Physician
MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine
Institute of Metabolic Science
Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Cambridge
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Past research has shown a beneficial link between some dairy products and risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but the mechanisms are not well understood. Body composition (total fat and lean mass) has been suggested as one pathway for the link, but the distribution of body fat and lean mass in relation to dairy consumption is not well studied. Based on this research gap, we aimed to investigate associations between types of dairy consumption and markers of body fat and lean mass distribution including: peripheral fat, the ratio of visceral (fat that surrounds the body organs) to abdominal subcutaneous fat (fat that accumulates under the skin) and appendicular lean mass (i.e., in the limbs).
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: In cross-sectional analysis of the large population-based Fenland study of about 12,000 adults from Cambridgeshire, UK we found that:
(1) Low-fat dairy consumption was associated with a lower ratio of abdominal visceral to subcutaneous fat by about 3%.
(2) Milk consumption was associated with 0.33kg higher total lean mass.
MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Response: (1) This report suggests that one possible pathway for the beneficial link between low-fat dairy products and metabolic disease like type 2 diabetes might be through a favourable distribution of body fat mass and total body lean mass.
(2) Our work cannot be considered definitive at this stage but it has generated an important hypothesis which we plan to test in a study that follows people up over time.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: This work should be repeated in the type of study where there is follow-up of the study participants over time so that the link between consuming types of dairy products and its influence on the future distribution of body fat and lean mass is assessed; this is called a prospective study. Though difficult to do, future clinical trials could also be planned where people consuming different types and amounts of dairy products can be studied and body fat and lean mass distribution studies in the different groups.
Also, in our work, as is common in dietary research, dairy consumption was self-reported, but in the future we can also assess the levels of blood fatty acids that correlate well with dairy products intake.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: Our work has some important strengths – (1) our study is based on a very large sample of about 12,000 adult men and women; (2) we used objective assessment of body fat distribution with DEXA scans (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) and ultrasound; (3) we were careful in our analyses to account for several lifestyle, dietary and social factors and also for body mass index, which might have distorted the findings if not accounted for; (4) we also statistically corrected for multiple testing that we undertook.
Our work has a key limitation that our study was cross-sectional and the findings cannot show cause and effect but can generate a hypothesis for us and others to study further in the future with studies with follow-up in time and also potentially in clinical trials.
This work did not aim to study if dairy consumption is linked with type 2 diabetes – that has been done previously by us and also other research groups. This work was specifically undertaken to try and understand a possible underlying pathway for such a link.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Citation: Abstract presented at the 2017 EASD Meeting
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