Low-fat dairy tied to Parkinson’s, study finds

Josh Hafner

Eating higher amounts of low-fat dairy could increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to a recent large-scale study.

Those who consume three servings or more of low-fat dairy a day carried a 34% higher risk of developing the disease compared to those who consumed less than one serving. No such link exists with full-fat dairy, researchers found.

What’s more, drinking more than a serving of skim or low-fat milk each day coincided with a 39% higher risk compared with drinking less than one serving per week.

As many as one million Americans live with Parkinson’s, a neurological disorder that affects movement, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.

The study, co-authored by Katherine C. Hughes at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, published last week in the American Academy of Neurology’s journal, Neurology. Yet researchers emphasized it showed a link in low-fat dairy to Parkinson’s, not a cause. 

To put it all in context: The study involved data from more than 128,000 men and women over about 25 years, during which 1,036 of those people developed Parkinson's. Of those who ate three-plus daily servings of low-fat dairy at the start, just 1% developed the disease. 

(Participants in the study completed surveys on their health every two years and on their diets every four years.)

Previous research suggested a link between Parkinson’s and dairy products, as Medical News Today noted, but the results of this study — the largest on such a link to date, researchers said —  shouldn’t cause a shift in your diet, one expert told the site. 

"It's really important to point out that the risk of developing Parkinson's was still very low (around 1 in 100), even in those who consumed lots of dairy, so there is no reason for people to make changes to their diet based on this research," said Claire Bale, head of research at Parkinson’s UK.

More research is needed before any verdict on dairy consumption can be made, researchers said, but the results did show “evidence of a moderate increased risk,” according to Hughes, the co-author.