Consuming dairy products at least once per day was associated with a significant improvement in a range of mental functions, including abstract reasoning, visual-spatial memory, organization, and working memory.
Writing in the International Dairy Journal, researchers from the University of South Australia and the University of Maine suggest that the benefits may be linked to the nutrient content of dairy foods, such as vitamin D, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Dairy consumption is linked to range of other lifestyle factors, and the authors note that over the past two decades dairy consumption has declined significantly around the world. In the US, declining dairy consumption has coincided with an increase in the consumption of soft drinks.
“This shift in dietary patterns is alarming with regard to the quantity of energy consumed, risk for excess weight gain and obesity, and inadequate nutrient intake,” wrote the researchers, led by Georgina Crichton.
“Consistent with this dietary pattern in children, our data in an adult population suggests that low dairy food consumers may engage in other less healthy lifestyle and dietary habits, and that this is one possible explanation of their poorer performance aside from missing the positive aspects of dairy food consumption.”
Crichton and her co-workers analysed data from 972 people participating in the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study.
Diet habits were assessed using the Nutrition and Health Questionnaire, a 41-question document originally developed for the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC).
Mental function was assessed using a battery of tests for visual-spatial memory and organization, scanning and tracking, verbal episodic memory, working memory, executive function, and similarities (a measure of abstract reasoning).
Results showed that consumption of dairy products at least once a day was associated with “significantly higher scores on multiple domains of cognitive function compared with those who never or rarely consumed dairy foods”.
“Frequent dairy food intake is associated with better cognitive performance but underlying causal mechanisms are still to be determined,” they added.
Source: International Dairy Journal
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.idairyj.2011.08.001
“Relation between dairy food intake and cognitive function: the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study”
Authors: G.E. Crichton, M.F. Elias, G.A. Dore, M.A. Robbins