NEW RESEARCH shows that regularly drinking milk can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The research could be good news for the dairy industry, which has seen declining sales of liquid milk for many years.

Prof Peter Elwood and colleagues from the University of Wales followed the dietary habits of some 2500 men from South Wales, aged between 45 and 59 years.

They found that the men who drank more than a pint of milk each day reduced their risk of heart disease and stroke by 30%, compared with those who drank no milk.

Called the Caerphilly Collaborative Heart Disease Study, the research has been published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In the same issue of the journal, Professor Elwood and his team also examined evidence from nine other studies from around the world.

Pooling the results from all these studies revealed that the risk of a heart attack was 13% lower in those countries with the highest milk consumption.

The risk of a stroke was 17% lower and the risk of either a heart attack or stroke was 16% lower.

“The studies, taken together, suggest that milk drinking may be associated with a small but worthwhile reduction in heart disease and stroke risk,” said Prof Elwood.

“One explanation for these results could be the beneficial effect of dairy products on blood pressure.

“In fact, in the Welsh study, the men who drank milk had lower blood pressure.”

There are an estimated 2.7 million people in the UK living with coronary heart disease with latest figures showing 117,000 people died from the disease in 2002.

Interestingly, dietary advice for reducing the risk of heart disease normally includes limiting milk intake and opting for low-fat milks rather than whole milk.

But, in the Caerphilly study, the men were likely to have consumed whole milk as the availability of reduced-fat milk was limited during the early years of the research.