The cow and the coronary: epidemiology, biochemistry and immunology

Int J Cardiol. 2003 Feb;87(2-3):203-16. doi: 10.1016/s0167-5273(02)00201-2.


Background: Certified death rates from coronary heart disease (CHD) are positively correlated country-by-country with milk consumption, particularly with that of the non-fat portion of milk. CHD death is also associated with circulating antibodies against milk fat-globule membrane (MFGM), raising the possibility that milk intake might be a specific risk factor for CHD. We studied the epidemiology and immunology of milk to see if the association is causal.

Methods: We plotted the intake of various foods country-by-country against CHD death rates to see if they were correlated in space and/or in time. We prepared fluorescein-tagged human antibodies against bovine MFGM to see if they showed any auto-reactivity against human tissue.

Results: Milk showed a positive correlation with CHD death rates in both space and time (r>0.9 in some cases). Beef was not correlated and cheese was negatively correlated, though not strongly. Wine was strongly negatively correlated. Human anti-bovine MFGM antibodies bind to human large granular lymphocytes and also to human platelets, causing aggregation.

Conclusions: We suggest that non-fat aspects of milk, particularly the Ca/Mg ratio, lactose and MFGM antigens, have specific coronary atherogenic effects, both biochemical and immunological, and the simultaneous attack from these three directions may explain why this foodstuff has such a strong effect. Wine appears to be an antidote for the harmful effects of milk.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / analysis*
  • Biochemical Phenomena
  • Biochemistry
  • Cattle
  • Cause of Death*
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry
  • Coronary Disease / epidemiology*
  • Coronary Disease / etiology*
  • Coronary Disease / immunology
  • Data Collection
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Tests
  • Male
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / immunology*
  • Membrane Proteins / analysis
  • Membrane Proteins / immunology*
  • Milk / adverse effects*
  • Milk Proteins / adverse effects*
  • Probability
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Survival Analysis


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Milk Proteins