Influence of dairy product and milk fat consumption on cardiovascular disease risk: a review of the evidence

Adv Nutr. 2012 May 1;3(3):266-85. doi: 10.3945/an.112.002030.


Although evidence has linked the consumption of saturated fat (SF) to increased LDL levels and an increased risk of the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD), recent findings have indicated that the link between CVD and SF may be less straightforward than originally thought. This may be due to the fact that some food sources high in SF contain an array of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, each of which may differentially affect lipoprotein metabolism, as well as contribute significant amounts of other nutrients, which may alter CVD risk. The purpose of this review is to examine the published research on the relationship between milk fat containing dairy foods and cardiovascular health. The findings indicate that the majority of observational studies have failed to find an association between the intake of dairy products and increased risk of CVD, coronary heart disease, and stroke, regardless of milk fat levels. Results from short-term intervention studies on CVD biomarkers have indicated that a diet higher in SF from whole milk and butter increases LDL cholesterol when substituted for carbohydrates or unsaturated fatty acids; however, they may also increase HDL and therefore might not affect or even lower the total cholesterol:HDL cholesterol ratio. The results from the review also indicate that cheese intake lowers LDL cholesterol compared with butter of equal milk fat content. In addition, the review highlights some significant gaps in the research surrounding the effects of full-fat dairy on CVD outcomes, pointing to the need for long-term intervention studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Butter / analysis
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Cheese / analysis
  • Cholesterol, HDL / blood
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Dairy Products / analysis*
  • Diet
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Milk / chemistry*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Butter