Researchers in Valencia, Spain, participated in an international study that has debunked the association between milk and dairy products and increased cardiovascular risk.
Oscar Coltell, a lecturer at the Universitat Jaume I de Castellon, led the computational analysis of the masses of data obtained in relation to an innovative new biomarker.
The study, led by Dr. Dolores Corella at the Spanish Biomedical Research Networking Centre in Physiopathology of Obesity & Nutrition, has identified a means of measuring a person's intake of milk and dairy products that bypasses traditional reliance on questionnaire- and interview-based estimations. Specifically, the team has identified a new biomarker that can reliably indicate consumption in both Mediterreanean and American populations.
This biomarker lends a lens of objectivity to an issue that has divided opinion for some time now: the association between consumption of milk and dairy products and cardiovascular risk. Studies so far have yielded contradictory results, which is perhaps not surprising since their main source of data is patient memory and recall, the announcement said.
Nutritional biomarkers, also known as genetic proxies, provide objective assessment of food intakes and are being used to counter this bias. Indeed, in nutritional research, the hunt for new biomarkers targeting different foodstuffs is intensifying, Corella said.
Of particular interest are single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). In this study, the researchers identified one such polymorphism in the MCM6 gene (MCM6-rs3754686 SNP). This SNP already had been identified as a marker of lactose tolerance, showing strong associations with the consumption of milk in the European Mediterranean population as well as in white, African-American and Hispanic populations.
Interestingly, a different polymorphism (MCM6-rs4988235) had already been identified as a biomarker in research with test subjects in Denmark. However, although this biomarker works in Northern European populations, the association with milk intake is not so strong in populations of other origins.
Corella noted that her part of the study, carried out under the national PREDIMED project, was based on food intake data obtained yearly over five years from more than 7,000 people. Blood samples were subject to broad-spectrum genomic analysis. Combined with the data provided by the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston, Mass., which also participated in the study, data were collected from more than 20,000 patients.
From there, Coltell led the meta-analysis of the vast data obtained, designing computational methods for extracting meaningful information (anthropometric, biochemical, genetic and statistical analyses) and developing bioinformatic techniques to search for new identifying markers. Furthermore, the computational methods developed enable in-depth analysis by subgroups.
Besides the contribution of a reliable genetic marker for the intake of dairy products, the study reported no significant association between a greater dairy intake and increased values for cardiovascular risk factors, including cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose, where previous studies have typically given contradictory results.
The study was published in Scientific Reports and be read in full here.