Cheese intake and multiple health outcomes: Findings from an umbrella review and updated meta-analysis

Cheese is a nutrient-dense, fermented dairy product that combines high-quality protein, lipids, several minerals (such as calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium), vitamins (such as vitamin A and many B vitamins) as well as a range of bioactive compounds (e.g., bioactive peptides, lactoferrin, short-chain fatty acids, etc.).

Cheese platter

An umbrella review and updated meta-analysis gathered and analyzed data from 54 existing meta-analyses of prospective studies to measure the association between cheese intake and 34 different health outcomes, such as mortality (11 outcomes), cardiovascular disease (4 outcomes), cancer (13 outcomes), metabolic disease (3 outcomes), and age-related outcomes (3 outcomes).

  • Mortality. According to the data of 21 studies assessing mortality including over 1,000,000 participants, cheese consumption (highest vs. lowest intake) is inversely associated with all-cause mortality. Additionally, a dose-response analysis revealed that each 30 g/day increment of cheese was associated with a 2% decrease in all-cause mortality risk. Similarly, cheese intake was linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular mortality (highest vs. lowest intake and dose-response), though it was not associated with the risk of any site-specific cancer mortality. 
  • Cardiovascular disease. An analysis combining 18 studies (1,833,112 participants) indicated that those with the highest cheese intake had an 8% lower overall risk of cardiovascular disease and that each 30 g/day increment was linked to a 3% decrease in the risks of overall cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke. Cheese was not linked to hypertension risk.
  • Cancer. Cheese intake was not linked to overall cancer risk (46 studies including 9,538,703 participants), and was not associated with any site-specific cancer, including total and advanced prostate cancer, with the exception of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer for which cheese demonstrated a protective effect.
  • Metabolic disease. Having a high cheese intake was linked to a reduced risk of developing diabetes based on the results of 25 studies (674,107 participants), though this association was not maintained in a dose-response analysis. No association was detected between cheese intake and prediabetes or metabolic syndrome risk. 
  • Aging-related disease. Based on the findings of 7 studies (306,639 participants), those with the highest cheese intake had a 10% lower risk of fractures. Each 30 g/day increment of cheese intake was linked to a 5% and 14% decrease in total fracture risk and hip fracture risk, respectively. Cheese consumption was neutrally associated with frailty and falls. Dementia was also linked with cheese consumption, with those having the highest intake being 19% less likely to develop dementia. Based on a previous meta-analysis of 5 studies included in this meta-analysis, a high cheese intake was marginally linked to Parkinson disease, though the level of evidence was determined to be very low.
  • Other. Inverse associations were found for the risk of childhood dental caries, osteoporosis, wheezing in infants, type 1 diabetes, and infant colic.

Overall, this umbrella review and meta-analysis provides a broad overview of the existing evidence on cheese and a wide range of health outcomes. The study’s authors attribute the beneficial associations between cheese intake and a wide range of health outcomes to dairy’s unique whole food matrix and composition, which includes many health-supporting nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin K2, and protein. Moreover, in addition to highlighting the nutrient density of cheese, they note that cheese’s complex matrix likely mitigates and modulates the effects of saturated fat and sodium.

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