Dairy & Blood Pressure: Putting the Pieces Together

March 25, 2015

Here’s a statistic that may make you pause – according to the American Heart Association, one out of every three adults has high blood pressure and only half have it under control. What’s equally surprising is that high blood pressure is one of the most predictive risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).

As a health and wellness professional, you know that consuming excess sodium is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, especially in those who are salt sensitive. For years, the primary strategy for managing high blood pressure through what people eat was to reduce sodium consumption. Then, the original DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) meal plan published over a decade ago — pioneered research supporting a link between increased consumption of certain foods to help manage high blood pressure. This fresh approach emphasized foods to eat more of versus individual nutrients to avoid, such as sodium.

Both observational and clinical studies have shown a beneficial relationship between the consumption of dairy foods and blood pressure in adults – but, you may wonder, how can the addition of dairy foods to the diet help contribute to a healthy blood pressure?

Do pieces of observational evidence form a complete puzzle for dairy foods and blood pressure?

Two recent meta-analyses, including nearly 45,000 and 57,256 adults respectively, show that eating low-fat dairy foods is associated with lower risk of hypertension. Researchers suggest that these associations may be due to the combination of nutrients found in dairy foods such as vitamins, minerals, and bioactive peptides that may work together to help improve our vascular health. In fact, it’s mentioned in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) that the consumption of milk and milk products is linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure in adults.

Does the clinical evidence add more pieces to the puzzle?

It is important to note that results from clinical trials are mixed. Some studies have shown no effect of consuming dairy foods on blood pressure, while others have shown improvements in both blood pressure and vascular function.

For example, one recent clinical trial demonstrated that adding four daily servings of fat-free dairy foods (milk, cheese and yogurt) to a normal diet lowered both systolic blood pressure and pulse pressure in adults – two risk factors that are highly predictive of CVD.

Additional clinical evidence[i] shows that dairy foods (particularly low-fat) have a role in improving endothelial function. Endothelial dysfunction is an important early marker of vascular damage that is linked to increased risk for heart attack, coronary artery disease and cardiac death.

Putting the pieces together

Together, the majority of evidence indicates that low-fat and fat-free dairy foods can help manage blood pressure. These findings reinforce the importance of meeting the DGA recommendation to consume 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods (e.g. milk, cheese or yogurt) each day for Americans ages 9 years and older. Overall, encouraging your clients to eat nutrient-rich foods, such as low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, as part of a total diet approach to blood pressure control can be beneficial.


[i]Machin DR, Park W, Alkatan M, Mouton M, Tanaka H. Hypotensive effects of solidary addition of conventional non-fat dairy products to the routine diet: a randomized controlled trial. AM J Clin Nutr. 2014; 100:80-87.

Drouin-Chartier JP, Gigleux I, Tremblay AJ, Poirier L, Lamarche B, Couture P. Impact of dairy consumption on essential hypertension: a clinical study. Nutr J.2014; 13:83.

Ballard KD, Mah E, Guo Y, Pei R, Volek JS, RS Bruno. Low-fat milk ingestion prevents postprandial hyperglycemia-mediated impairments in vascular endothelial function in obese individuals with metabolic syndrome. J Nutr.2013; 143(10): 1602-10.