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Yogurt: The New Heart-Healthy Food?

Yogurt: The New Heart-Healthy Food?
: Main Image
Eating 100 grams or more per day may play a role in stroke and atherosclerosis prevention
Yogurt that is cultured with gut-friendly bacteria may help you stay well during a course of antibiotics, but what can it do for your heart? A new study found that older women who regularly ate yogurt had less thickening of the carotid arteries' walls. Thickening of these arterial walls is a sign of atherosclerosis and has been linked to higher risk of stroke and heart attack.

Looking at diet and carotid artery health

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, included 1,080 women over 70. They answered questions about their intake of dairy and other foods and about their health. Three years later, they underwent medical tests including ultrasound measurements of carotid artery wall thickness.

The researchers made the following observations about dairy intake and carotid wall thickness:

  • Women who ate at least 100 grams (almost 4 ounces) of yogurt daily had less carotid artery thickening than women who ate less yogurt.
  • Previous research suggests that the 0.024 ml difference in carotid wall thickness between yogurt eaters and noneaters seen in this study might be associated with a large difference in risk of stroke or heart attack.
  • Other dairy products, such as cheese and milk were not related to carotid wall thickness.

Yogurt eaters have healthier blood vessels

Although this type of study cannot prove that eating yogurt improves arterial or cardiovascular health, it does show a relationship. The study's authors felt the relationship they observed was strong enough to suggest that eating "100 grams or more per day may play a role in stroke and atherosclerosis prevention."

Remember, the proven ways to keep artery walls healthy are to eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, stay physically fit, maintain a proper weight, manage stress, and don't smoke.

Live well with live food

Here are some other good reasons to include yogurt in your regular diet:

  • Keep the digestive tract moving smoothly. Studies show that yogurt with living cultures can help people with diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. It may also be helpful in treating heartburn and peptic ulcer disease.
  • Cancer prevention. Yogurt and other fermented dairy products have been found to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
  • Cavity prevention. Yogurt-eating has been found to reduce the levels of cavity- and gum disease-causing bacteria in the mouth.
  • Diabetes prevention. Eating low-fat dairy foods like low-fat yogurt is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Boost the immune system. Some studies have found that the bacteria in probiotic yogurt with live active cultures can stimulate immune cells and prevent infections, including the common cold.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2011;94:234-9)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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