Abstract

High milk consumption might shorten life span through increased oxidative stress. We aimed to determine whether higher mortality rates with high milk consumption are modified by fruit and vegetable intake or total antioxidant intake (oxygen radical absorbance capacity). We used information from food frequency questionnaires completed by 61,420 women in a Swedish cohort (22,391 deaths from the 1987–1990 baseline onward), 36,714 women from a second survey (1997) of this cohort, and 45,280 Swedish men (15,478 deaths from the 1998 baseline onward). Compared with low consumption of milk (<1 glass/day) and high consumption of fruits/vegetables (≥5 servings/day), time-updated information revealed an adjusted hazard ratio for death of 2.79 (95% confidence interval (CI): 2.42, 3.21) in women who consumed ≥3 glasses of milk/day and <1 serving/day of fruit/vegetables and a hazard ratio of 1.60 (95% CI: 1.40, 1.82) in women who consumed the same amount of milk but ≥5 servings/day of fruits/vegetables. The same comparisons in men, based on a single food frequency questionnaire, displayed hazard ratios of 1.31 (95% CI: 1.14, 1.51) and 1.07 (95% CI: 0.97, 1.18), respectively. Total antioxidant consumption showed similar patterns as fruit/vegetable intakes. Dietary antioxidant intake, especially in women, seems to modify the elevated death rate associated with high milk consumption.

High milk consumption has long been promoted as strengthening bone and reducing the likelihood of fragility fractures. However, we recently demonstrated a higher risk of fracture with high daily milk consumption in women (1). Mortality rates were also increased in both women and men with high milk consumption. We hypothesized that the underlying mechanism could be explained by the lactose content of milk (1).

Milk is the main dietary source of d-galactose, one component of the disaccharide lactose. Chronic d-galactose exposure in animals, with a dose corresponding to 1–2 glasses of milk in humans (1, 2), is deleterious to health by means of oxidative stress damage and chronic inflammation (25). Female animals seem to be especially vulnerable (68). The increased oxidative stress with aging and chronic low-grade inflammation is not only a pathogenic mechanism of cardiovascular disease and cancer in humans (9, 10) but also a mechanism of age-related bone loss and sarcopenia (10, 11).

Oxidative stress and inflammation can be reduced by a diet rich in antioxidants (1215), and such foods could potentially reduce rates of death (16, 17). Because of the antioxidant capacity of vegetables and fruits and the high content of lactose/galactose in milk, which may induce oxidative stress and low-grade inflammation, we hypothesized that a high intake of fruits and vegetables or a high total antioxidant intake (18, 19) may counteract the observed associations of milk intake with mortality. Indeed, experimental evidence in animals indicates that galactose-induced aging can be prevented by a higher intake of fruits and vegetables (2024).

To our knowledge, no previous clinical study has combined milk consumption with fruit and vegetable intake and total antioxidant intake to evaluate associations with the rate of death. In Scandinavia, consumption of milk and of fruits and vegetables displays a wide range in intake (1, 25, 26). Therefore, our main objective in this Swedish cohort study was to determine whether fruit and vegetable intake or total antioxidant intake modifies the previously observed relationship between milk consumption and death.

METHODS

We used data from 2 previously described (1) population-based cohort studies, the Swedish Mammography Cohort (SMC) and the Cohort of Swedish Men. The SMC started in 1987–1990 when 74% of all 90,303 women aged 39–74 years residing in 2 Swedish counties completed a questionnaire covering diet (food frequency questionnaire (FFQ)) and lifestyle that had been enclosed with a mailed invitation to undergo routine mammography screening. In 1997, a subsequent expanded questionnaire was sent to the 56,030 women still living in the study area (response rate 70%). We excluded women with implausible values for total energy intake (≥3 standard deviations below or above the log-transformed mean energy intake; cutoffs were 574 kcal/day and 4,707 kcal/day) (27) and those with missing data on all items regarding fruit and vegetable consumption. Exclusion of outliers for energy intake, in addition to adjustment for total energy intake in the statistical analyses, compensates for overall under- or overreporting of dietary intake (28). In the present study, a first analysis included 61,240 women without a prevalent cancer diagnosis in the SMC with information from 1987–1990 and 38,331 women with updated information from 1997. In a second analysis with baseline set at the second examination, we included 36,714 women who were alive on January 1, 1998, and free of any previous cancers.

The Cohort of Swedish Men was established in 1997. All men aged 45–79 years residing in 2 counties in central Sweden were invited to participate in the study (n = 100,303). The FFQ and lifestyle questionnaire was completed by 48,850 men. Despite a response rate of only 49%, the Cohort of Swedish Men is representative of Swedish men in this age range in relation to age distribution, educational level, and prevalence of overweight (29). We excluded men with implausible values for total energy intake (cutoffs were 861 kcal/day and 7,311 kcal/day). For the present analysis, 45,280 men who were alive on January 1, 1998, and free of previous cancers were available.

The single FFQ administered in 1997 was used to simplify the comparison between men and women, but in women we also used time-updated information by means of the complete SMC data set. The studies have been approved by the Regional Ethical Review Board in Stockholm, Sweden.

Exposures

The participants reported, by means of a valid and reproducible FFQ, their average frequency of consumption of up to 96 foods and beverages during the past year, including milk (either low-fat (≤0.5%), medium-fat (1.5%), or high-fat (3%)), sour milk, yogurt, cheese, 5 fruits (apples, bananas, berries, oranges/citrus fruit, and other fruit), orange juice, and 13 vegetables (carrots, beet root, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, onion, garlic, peas, pea soup, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and other vegetables) (2931). There were 8 possible frequency categories in increasing order from zero times per month to more than 3 times per day. In the 1987–1990 FFQ, the numbers of fruit (n = 4) and vegetable (n = 5) categories were fewer, but they comprised more fruit or vegetable items in each category. The fruit and vegetable categories represented the typical consumption pattern in Sweden at the time of each investigation, with a higher number of items over time. In accordance with national dietary guidelines (32), only 1 glass of juice (fresh or from concentrate) was included in the calculation of daily intake, independent of the amount ingested. Instructions in the FFQ stated that 1 serving of milk corresponds to 1 glass of 200 mL. Milk intake was specified according to fat content, and intakes were summed into a single measure representing total milk intake on a continuous scale. Missing values for individual dairy products were interpreted as no intake of that particular food (33). The small fraction of missing data for single items, which were regarded as zero consumption, is unlikely to represent a bias for the observed findings (33). In fact, 92% of those who did not report milk consumption on the FFQ part of the questionnaire reported that they did not consume milk when posed a specific question, and 99.8% had consumption of less than 1 glass/day according to complementary open questions regarding dairy consumption.

Nutrient intakes were estimated by multiplying the consumption frequency of each food item by the nutrient content of age-specific portion sizes and reference data obtained from the Swedish National Food Agency database (34) and were adjusted for total energy intake using the residual method (28). According to validation studies of the self-reported milk intakes, the Spearman coefficient for correlation between the FFQ and four 7-day food records every third month (a gold standard reference) was approximately 0.7 (35). Spearman coefficients for correlation between the FFQ and the averages of these four 7-day dietary records ranged between 0.4 and 0.7 for individual fruit and vegetable items.

We calculated estimates of total antioxidant capacity from diet analyzed with an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay, as described in detail previously (18). The FFQ contained 31 items with available ORAC values. The total antioxidant capacity of the diet (µmol/day) was calculated as the sum of the antioxidant content of the 31 food items, calculated by multiplying the average daily consumption of each food by its ORAC concentration (μmol Trolox equivalents (TE)/100 g) (Trolox: F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, Basel, Switzerland). Because antioxidants in coffee and tea have been shown to be poorly absorbed, we took into account absorption (6% for coffee and 4% for tea) when calculating the ORAC (36). The correlation between the total antioxidant capacities of dietary ORAC and plasma ORAC was 0.31.

Outcomes

We considered as the primary outcome all-cause mortality registered between baseline and September 30, 2015, in the Swedish Cause of Death Registry. We used the underlying cause of death from the Swedish Cause of Death Registry to define secondary outcomes: mortality from cardiovascular diseases (International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, codes I00–I99) and cancer (International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, C-codes) through December 31, 2014. For 1987–1996, we used corresponding codes from the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision.

Statistical analysis

We calculated time at risk for each participant from study entry until the date of each outcome, the date of emigration, or the end of the study period, whichever came first. We first evaluated trends in mortality rates according to milk intake, fruit and vegetable intake, and ORAC using restricted cubic-spline Cox regression with 3 knots placed at percentiles 10, 50, and 90 of the exposures (37). We calculated age-adjusted death rates and age- and multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals for categories of milk intake (<1, 1–<2, 2–<3, or ≥3 glasses/day) and categories of fruit and vegetable intake or quartiles of ORAC. We categorized fruit and vegetable intake as <1, 1–<2, 2–<3, 3–<4, 4–<5, or ≥5 servings/day, with the latter category reflecting dietary recommendations (32). The proportional hazards assumptions were confirmed graphically by log-log plots.

To select suitable covariates for the multivariable model, we used present knowledge and directed acyclic graphs (38). The model for the total effect included age, total energy intake, body mass index (weight (kg)/height (m)2), height, intakes of yogurt, cheese, red and processed meat, and alcohol (all continuous), educational level (≤9 years, 10–12 years, >12 years, or other), living alone (yes/no), ever use of antioxidant supplements (yes/no), physical activity (metabolic equivalent-hours/day; continuous), smoking status (never, former with <20 pack-years, former with ≥20 pack-years, current with <20 pack-years, or current with ≥20 pack-years) and Charlson's comorbidity index (possible range of scores, 0–33; continuous) (39, 40). To avoid loss of efficiency and limit the introduction of bias by restricting the analysis to persons with complete data alone, missing data on covariates were imputed using multiple imputation (41). We also imputed covariates not assessed at the baseline of the SMC in 1987–1990 (e.g., smoking status and physical activity) (1). Additional sensitivity analyses included exclusion of the first 2 years of follow-up, persons with a body mass index greater than 35, and current smokers. To our second model, we also added as covariates use of calcium-containing supplements and, for baseline 1997, use of aspirin and prevalent hypercholesterolemia. In a fourth model, we additionally adjusted our estimates for energy-adjusted dietary intakes of protein, total and saturated fat, calcium, vitamin D, retinol, and phosphorus; ever use of cortisone; and, among women, hormone replacement therapy.

Measures of interaction were calculated on the basis of adjusted hazard ratios (HRs), using persons consuming less than 1 glass of milk and 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day as the reference category for the following groups (annotations in parentheses): milk intake ≥3 glasses/day, fruit and vegetable intake ≥5 servings/day (HR10); milk intake <1 glass/day, fruit and vegetable intake <1 serving/day (HR01); and milk intake ≥3 glasses/day, fruit and vegetable intake <1 serving/day (HR11). The relative excess risk of interaction (interaction on the additive scale) was calculated as HR11 − HR10 − HR01 + 1 (42), and 95% confidence intervals were obtained by means of the bootstrap percentile method with 1,000 bootstrap samples. The statistical analyses were performed with Stata 13.1 (StataCorp LP, College Station, Texas).

RESULTS

Characteristics of the study population by baseline date and sex are presented in Tables 13. Approximately 9% of the women reported milk consumption of ≥3 glasses/day in 1987–1990 (Table 1), whereas in 1997 only 2% reported such intake (Table 2). Men had on average higher consumption of milk; 15% drank ≥3 glasses/day in 1997 (Table 3). Average reported consumption of fruits and vegetables among women was 3.5 servings/day (standard deviation (SD), 2.0) at baseline and 5.3 servings/day (SD, 3.0) at the follow-up examination. Men reported an average consumption of 4.1 servings/day (SD, 2.5). Intake of fruits and vegetables did not vary by milk intake in either women or men.

Table 1.

Characteristics of the Swedish Mammography Cohort (Women) According to Milk Consumption at the 1987–1990 Baseline (n = 61,240)

Characteristic Milk Intake, glasses/day 
<1 1–<2 2–<3 ≥3 
Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons 
All participants  16,869 27.5  23,385 38.2  15,405 25.2  5,581 9.1 
Age at entry, years 53.2 (9.5)   54.0 (9.7)   54.1 (9.9)   52.8 (9.6)   
Body mass indexa (n = 58,960) 24.4 (3.9)   24.7 (3.8)   25.0 (4.0)   24.9 (4.2)   
Height, m (n = 59,685) 1.64 (0.06)   1.64 (0.06)   1.64 (0.06)   1.64 (0.06)   
Dietary intake             
 Energy, kcal/day 1,414 (433)   1,537 (413)   1,709 (433)   1,967 (525)   
 Milk, g/dayb 17.3 (37.3)   201.6 (14.9)   400.2 (6.0)   676.8 (151.9)   
 Yogurt, g/day 102.7 (117.3)   97.8 (101.2)   93.4 (105.1)   87.2 (113.1)   
 Cheese, g/day 26.8 (21.2)   26.3 (19.6)   26.8 (19.8)   27.7 (22.0)   
 Fruit, g/day (n = 61,031) 201.0 (143.4)   196.6 (132.5)   191.6 (136.7)   183.0 (147.1)   
 Vegetables, g/day (n = 61,104) 92.5 (67.5)   87.6 (60.2)   85.7 (63.8)   81.7 (63.9)   
 Fruit and vegetables, servings/day 3.6 (2.1)   3.5 (1.9)   3.4 (2.0)   3.2 (2.1)   
 Red and processed meat, g/day 70.2 (42.2)   75.5 (39.8)   79.8 (40.6)   85.4 (44.8)   
 Protein, g/day 62.3 (9.1)   66.4 (8.0)   69.9 (8.2)   73.1 (8.8)   
 Total fat, g/day 44.3 (17.0)   48.9 (16.7)   55.0 (18.4)   65.0 (24.2)   
 Saturated fat, g/day 19.0 (8.1)   21.4 (8.0)   24.5 (9.1)   30.0 (12.6)   
 Calcium, mg/day 733 (159)   859 (139)   972 (144)   1,101 (174)   
 Vitamin D, μg/day 3.9 (1.3)   4.4 (1.2)   4.8 (1.4)   5.1 (1.7)   
 Phosphorus, mg/day 1,242 (184)   1,365 (165)   1,478 (174)   1,587 (204)   
 Retinol, mg/day 0.94 (0.70)   1.03 (0.64)   1.09 (0.61)   1.09 (0.59)   
 Alcohol, g/day 3.1 (4.0)   2.6 (3.5)   2.1 (3.0)   1.9 (3.0)   
Physical activity, MET-hours/dayc 42.2 (4.8)   42.4 (4.8)   42.6 (4.8)   42.8 (5.0)   
Leisure-time physical activity, hours/weekc             
 <1  3,256 19.3  4,396 18.8  2,900 18.8  1,077 19.3 
 1  4,254 25.2  6,094 26.1  3,954 25.7  1,429 25.6 
 2–3  5,282 31.3  7,526 32.2  4,900 31.8  1,783 31.9 
 4–5  2,423 14.4  3,286 14.1  2,301 14.9  783 14.0 
 >5  1,654 9.8  2,083 8.9  1,350 8.8  509 9.1 
Education, years             
 ≤9  13,235 78.5  18,676 79.9  12,487 81.1  4,393 78.7 
 10–12  1,366 8.1  1,699 7.3  1,054 6.8  403 7.2 
 >12  897 5.3  1,146 4.9  632 4.1  266 4.8 
 Otherd  1,371 8.1  1,864 8.0  1,232 8.0  519 9.3 
Smoking statusc             
 Never smoker  8,206 48.6  12,221 52.3  7,870 51.1  2,595 46.5 
 Former smoker  5,318 31.5  6,875 29.4  4,450 28.9  1,646 29.5 
 Current smoker  3,345 19.8  4,289 18.3  3,085 20.0  1,340 24.0 
Living alone  3,939 23.4  5,292 22.6  3,741 24.3  1,430 25.6 
Charlson comorbidity indexe             
 0  15,143 89.8  21,111 90.3  13,817 89.7  4,907 87.9 
 1  1,401 8.3  1,791 7.7  1,231 8.0  528 9.5 
 ≥2  325 1.9  483 2.1  357 2.3  146 2.6 
Current use of calcium-containing supplements (regular or occasional)c  2,914 17.3  3,840 16.4  2,159 14.0  801 14.4 
Ever use of antioxidant-containing supplementsc  5,027 29.8  6,700 28.7  3,895 25.3  1,348 24.2 
Ever use of estrogen replacement therapyc  3,495 20.7  5,063 21.7  3,508 22.8  1,458 26.1 
Ever use of cortisonec  897 5.3  1,057 4.5  733 4.8  256 4.6 
Characteristic Milk Intake, glasses/day 
<1 1–<2 2–<3 ≥3 
Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons 
All participants  16,869 27.5  23,385 38.2  15,405 25.2  5,581 9.1 
Age at entry, years 53.2 (9.5)   54.0 (9.7)   54.1 (9.9)   52.8 (9.6)   
Body mass indexa (n = 58,960) 24.4 (3.9)   24.7 (3.8)   25.0 (4.0)   24.9 (4.2)   
Height, m (n = 59,685) 1.64 (0.06)   1.64 (0.06)   1.64 (0.06)   1.64 (0.06)   
Dietary intake             
 Energy, kcal/day 1,414 (433)   1,537 (413)   1,709 (433)   1,967 (525)   
 Milk, g/dayb 17.3 (37.3)   201.6 (14.9)   400.2 (6.0)   676.8 (151.9)   
 Yogurt, g/day 102.7 (117.3)   97.8 (101.2)   93.4 (105.1)   87.2 (113.1)   
 Cheese, g/day 26.8 (21.2)   26.3 (19.6)   26.8 (19.8)   27.7 (22.0)   
 Fruit, g/day (n = 61,031) 201.0 (143.4)   196.6 (132.5)   191.6 (136.7)   183.0 (147.1)   
 Vegetables, g/day (n = 61,104) 92.5 (67.5)   87.6 (60.2)   85.7 (63.8)   81.7 (63.9)   
 Fruit and vegetables, servings/day 3.6 (2.1)   3.5 (1.9)   3.4 (2.0)   3.2 (2.1)   
 Red and processed meat, g/day 70.2 (42.2)   75.5 (39.8)   79.8 (40.6)   85.4 (44.8)   
 Protein, g/day 62.3 (9.1)   66.4 (8.0)   69.9 (8.2)   73.1 (8.8)   
 Total fat, g/day 44.3 (17.0)   48.9 (16.7)   55.0 (18.4)   65.0 (24.2)   
 Saturated fat, g/day 19.0 (8.1)   21.4 (8.0)   24.5 (9.1)   30.0 (12.6)   
 Calcium, mg/day 733 (159)   859 (139)   972 (144)   1,101 (174)   
 Vitamin D, μg/day 3.9 (1.3)   4.4 (1.2)   4.8 (1.4)   5.1 (1.7)   
 Phosphorus, mg/day 1,242 (184)   1,365 (165)   1,478 (174)   1,587 (204)   
 Retinol, mg/day 0.94 (0.70)   1.03 (0.64)   1.09 (0.61)   1.09 (0.59)   
 Alcohol, g/day 3.1 (4.0)   2.6 (3.5)   2.1 (3.0)   1.9 (3.0)   
Physical activity, MET-hours/dayc 42.2 (4.8)   42.4 (4.8)   42.6 (4.8)   42.8 (5.0)   
Leisure-time physical activity, hours/weekc             
 <1  3,256 19.3  4,396 18.8  2,900 18.8  1,077 19.3 
 1  4,254 25.2  6,094 26.1  3,954 25.7  1,429 25.6 
 2–3  5,282 31.3  7,526 32.2  4,900 31.8  1,783 31.9 
 4–5  2,423 14.4  3,286 14.1  2,301 14.9  783 14.0 
 >5  1,654 9.8  2,083 8.9  1,350 8.8  509 9.1 
Education, years             
 ≤9  13,235 78.5  18,676 79.9  12,487 81.1  4,393 78.7 
 10–12  1,366 8.1  1,699 7.3  1,054 6.8  403 7.2 
 >12  897 5.3  1,146 4.9  632 4.1  266 4.8 
 Otherd  1,371 8.1  1,864 8.0  1,232 8.0  519 9.3 
Smoking statusc             
 Never smoker  8,206 48.6  12,221 52.3  7,870 51.1  2,595 46.5 
 Former smoker  5,318 31.5  6,875 29.4  4,450 28.9  1,646 29.5 
 Current smoker  3,345 19.8  4,289 18.3  3,085 20.0  1,340 24.0 
Living alone  3,939 23.4  5,292 22.6  3,741 24.3  1,430 25.6 
Charlson comorbidity indexe             
 0  15,143 89.8  21,111 90.3  13,817 89.7  4,907 87.9 
 1  1,401 8.3  1,791 7.7  1,231 8.0  528 9.5 
 ≥2  325 1.9  483 2.1  357 2.3  146 2.6 
Current use of calcium-containing supplements (regular or occasional)c  2,914 17.3  3,840 16.4  2,159 14.0  801 14.4 
Ever use of antioxidant-containing supplementsc  5,027 29.8  6,700 28.7  3,895 25.3  1,348 24.2 
Ever use of estrogen replacement therapyc  3,495 20.7  5,063 21.7  3,508 22.8  1,458 26.1 
Ever use of cortisonec  897 5.3  1,057 4.5  733 4.8  256 4.6 

Abbreviations: MET, metabolic equivalent; SD, standard deviation.

a Weight (kg)/height (m)2.

b 1 g/day of milk ≈ 1 mL/day.

c Values were imputed from the 1997 questionnaire.

d Such as vocational education.

eInternational Classification of Diseases (Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth revisions) diagnosis codes were collated from the National Patient Registry to calculate weighted Charlson comorbidity scores. The Charlson comorbidity index predicts mortality for a patient who may have a range of up to 17 comorbid conditions. Each condition is assigned a score of 1–6, depending on the risk of dying associated with the condition.

Table 2.

Characteristics of the Swedish Mammography Cohort (Women) According to Milk Consumption at the 1997 Baseline (n = 36,714)

Characteristic Milk Intake, glasses/day 
<1 1–<2 2<3 
Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons 
All participants  26,617 72.5  7,282 19.8  2,157 5.9  658 1.8 
Age at entry, years 61.2 (9.2)   63.4 (9.3)   63.2 (9.1)   63.0 (9.5)   
Body mass indexa (n = 36,076) 24.9 (3.9)   25.4 (4.0)   25.6 (4.2)   25.4 (4.1)   
Height, m (n = 36,551) 1.65 (0.06)   1.64 (0.06)   1.65 (0.06)   1.65 (0.06)   
Dietary intake             
 Energy, kcal/day 1,676 (504)   1,827 (521)   2,005 (561)   2,271 (651)   
 Milk, g/dayb 75.6 (60.6)   277.2 (34.4)   465.0 (65.1)   908.7 (307.8)   
 Yogurt, g/day 173.7 (194.8)   182.1 (209.4)   195.3 (250.0)   276.3 (409.6)   
 Cheese, g/day 49.3 (40.0)   50.4 (37.6)   55.6 (42.5)   59.6 (51.8)   
 Fruit, g/day (n = 36,450) 227.8 (155.3)   218.7 (152.8)   209.9 (149.9)   223.9 (176.2)   
 Vegetables, g/day (n = 36,628) 219.4 (144.8)   211.6 (141.0)   208.4 (135.2)   213.5 (148.6)   
 Fruit and vegetables, servings/day 5.4 (3.0)   5.1 (2.9)   5.0 (2.8)   5.2 (3.1)   
 Oxygen radical absorbance capacity,  µmol/day 12,841 (5,030)   13,225 (5,254)   13,374 (5,106)   13,803 (5,865)   
 Red and processed meat, g/day 63.8 (45.0)   67.7 (46.1)   70.8 (50.4)   68.3 (51.0)   
 Protein, g/day 69.5 (11.4)   72.8 (11.0)   75.3 (11.2)   81.2 (11.9)   
 Total fat, g/day 60.1 (10.4)   59.1 (9.8)   58.5 (10.2)   56.2 (10.8)   
 Saturated fat, g/day 27.3 (6.4)   27.1 (6.1)   27.1 (6.3)   26.9 (6.6)   
 Calcium, mg/day 977 (270)   1,157 (268)   1,297 (288)   1,618 (383)   
 Vitamin D, μg/day 4.3 (1.6)   4.9 (1.5)   5.4 (1.5)   6.0 (1.8)   
 Phosphorus, μg/day 1,356 (211)   1,488 (210)   1,581 (219)   1,800 (280)   
 Retinol, mg/day 0.86 (0.68)   0.95 (0.73)   0.98 (0.73)   1.00 (0.49)   
 Alcohol, g/day 4.5 (5.4)   3.2 (4.5)   2.9 (4.3)   3.8 (7.2)   
Physical activity, MET-hours/day (n = 28,321) 42.3 (4.7)   42.8 (4.8)   42.6 (5.0)   42.7 (5.4)   
Leisure-time physical activity, hours/week (n = 32,799)             
 <1  4,687 19.6  1,285 19.8  375 19.8  118 21.0 
 1  5,729 24.0  1,469 22.7  428 22.6  116 20.7 
 2–3  8,045 33.7  2,220 34.3  635 33.5  170 30.3 
 4–5  2,773 11.6  797 12.3  228 12.0  71 12.7 
 >5  2,633 11.0  703 10.9  231 12.2  86 15.3 
Education, years (n = 36,683)             
 ≤9  19,126 71.9  5,759 79.2  1,721 79.8  483 73.4 
 10–12  2,133 8.0  465 6.4  115 5.3  50 7.6 
 >12  5,294 19.9  1,035 14.2  311 14.4  123 18.7 
 Otherc  40 0.2  16 0.2  10 0.5  0.3 
Smoking status (n = 36,182)             
 Never smoker  13,804 52.7  4,134 57.6  1,157 54.2  333 51.2 
 Former smoker  6,348 24.2  1,384 19.3  395 18.5  150 23.0 
  <20 pack-yearsd  4,910 19.2  1,038 14.8  277 13.3  115 18.1 
  ≥20 pack-years  1,069 4.2  255 3.6  81 3.9  26 4.1 
 Current smoker  6,064 23.1  1,662 23.1  583 27.3  168 25.8 
  <20 pack-years  3,328 13.0  886 12.6  297 14.3  74 11.7 
  ≥20 pack-years  2,460 9.6  700 10.0  268 12.9  86 13.6 
Living alone  5,580 21.0  1,691 23.2  504 23.4  172 26.1 
Charlson comorbidity indexe             
 0  23,416 88.0  6,290 86.4  1,857 86.1  541 82.2 
 1  2,163 8.1  668 9.2  219 10.2  74 11.2 
 ≥2  1,038 3.9  324 4.4  81 3.8  43 6.5 
Current use of calcium-containing supplements (regular or occasional)  6,465 24.3  1,735 23.8  529 24.5  160 24.3 
Ever use of antioxidant-containing supplements  11,764 44.2  3,174 43.6  930 43.1  288 43.8 
Ever use of aspirin  11,495 43.2  3,132 43.0  960 44.5  285 43.3 
Ever hypercholesterolemiaf  9,520 35.8  2,699 37.1  771 35.7  216 32.8 
Ever use of estrogen replacement therapy  12,440 47.5  3,115 43.5  906 42.7  313 48.5 
Ever use of cortisone  1,929 7.2  550 7.6  196 9.1  52 7.9 
Characteristic Milk Intake, glasses/day 
<1 1–<2 2<3 
Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons 
All participants  26,617 72.5  7,282 19.8  2,157 5.9  658 1.8 
Age at entry, years 61.2 (9.2)   63.4 (9.3)   63.2 (9.1)   63.0 (9.5)   
Body mass indexa (n = 36,076) 24.9 (3.9)   25.4 (4.0)   25.6 (4.2)   25.4 (4.1)   
Height, m (n = 36,551) 1.65 (0.06)   1.64 (0.06)   1.65 (0.06)   1.65 (0.06)   
Dietary intake             
 Energy, kcal/day 1,676 (504)   1,827 (521)   2,005 (561)   2,271 (651)   
 Milk, g/dayb 75.6 (60.6)   277.2 (34.4)   465.0 (65.1)   908.7 (307.8)   
 Yogurt, g/day 173.7 (194.8)   182.1 (209.4)   195.3 (250.0)   276.3 (409.6)   
 Cheese, g/day 49.3 (40.0)   50.4 (37.6)   55.6 (42.5)   59.6 (51.8)   
 Fruit, g/day (n = 36,450) 227.8 (155.3)   218.7 (152.8)   209.9 (149.9)   223.9 (176.2)   
 Vegetables, g/day (n = 36,628) 219.4 (144.8)   211.6 (141.0)   208.4 (135.2)   213.5 (148.6)   
 Fruit and vegetables, servings/day 5.4 (3.0)   5.1 (2.9)   5.0 (2.8)   5.2 (3.1)   
 Oxygen radical absorbance capacity,  µmol/day 12,841 (5,030)   13,225 (5,254)   13,374 (5,106)   13,803 (5,865)   
 Red and processed meat, g/day 63.8 (45.0)   67.7 (46.1)   70.8 (50.4)   68.3 (51.0)   
 Protein, g/day 69.5 (11.4)   72.8 (11.0)   75.3 (11.2)   81.2 (11.9)   
 Total fat, g/day 60.1 (10.4)   59.1 (9.8)   58.5 (10.2)   56.2 (10.8)   
 Saturated fat, g/day 27.3 (6.4)   27.1 (6.1)   27.1 (6.3)   26.9 (6.6)   
 Calcium, mg/day 977 (270)   1,157 (268)   1,297 (288)   1,618 (383)   
 Vitamin D, μg/day 4.3 (1.6)   4.9 (1.5)   5.4 (1.5)   6.0 (1.8)   
 Phosphorus, μg/day 1,356 (211)   1,488 (210)   1,581 (219)   1,800 (280)   
 Retinol, mg/day 0.86 (0.68)   0.95 (0.73)   0.98 (0.73)   1.00 (0.49)   
 Alcohol, g/day 4.5 (5.4)   3.2 (4.5)   2.9 (4.3)   3.8 (7.2)   
Physical activity, MET-hours/day (n = 28,321) 42.3 (4.7)   42.8 (4.8)   42.6 (5.0)   42.7 (5.4)   
Leisure-time physical activity, hours/week (n = 32,799)             
 <1  4,687 19.6  1,285 19.8  375 19.8  118 21.0 
 1  5,729 24.0  1,469 22.7  428 22.6  116 20.7 
 2–3  8,045 33.7  2,220 34.3  635 33.5  170 30.3 
 4–5  2,773 11.6  797 12.3  228 12.0  71 12.7 
 >5  2,633 11.0  703 10.9  231 12.2  86 15.3 
Education, years (n = 36,683)             
 ≤9  19,126 71.9  5,759 79.2  1,721 79.8  483 73.4 
 10–12  2,133 8.0  465 6.4  115 5.3  50 7.6 
 >12  5,294 19.9  1,035 14.2  311 14.4  123 18.7 
 Otherc  40 0.2  16 0.2  10 0.5  0.3 
Smoking status (n = 36,182)             
 Never smoker  13,804 52.7  4,134 57.6  1,157 54.2  333 51.2 
 Former smoker  6,348 24.2  1,384 19.3  395 18.5  150 23.0 
  <20 pack-yearsd  4,910 19.2  1,038 14.8  277 13.3  115 18.1 
  ≥20 pack-years  1,069 4.2  255 3.6  81 3.9  26 4.1 
 Current smoker  6,064 23.1  1,662 23.1  583 27.3  168 25.8 
  <20 pack-years  3,328 13.0  886 12.6  297 14.3  74 11.7 
  ≥20 pack-years  2,460 9.6  700 10.0  268 12.9  86 13.6 
Living alone  5,580 21.0  1,691 23.2  504 23.4  172 26.1 
Charlson comorbidity indexe             
 0  23,416 88.0  6,290 86.4  1,857 86.1  541 82.2 
 1  2,163 8.1  668 9.2  219 10.2  74 11.2 
 ≥2  1,038 3.9  324 4.4  81 3.8  43 6.5 
Current use of calcium-containing supplements (regular or occasional)  6,465 24.3  1,735 23.8  529 24.5  160 24.3 
Ever use of antioxidant-containing supplements  11,764 44.2  3,174 43.6  930 43.1  288 43.8 
Ever use of aspirin  11,495 43.2  3,132 43.0  960 44.5  285 43.3 
Ever hypercholesterolemiaf  9,520 35.8  2,699 37.1  771 35.7  216 32.8 
Ever use of estrogen replacement therapy  12,440 47.5  3,115 43.5  906 42.7  313 48.5 
Ever use of cortisone  1,929 7.2  550 7.6  196 9.1  52 7.9 

Abbreviations: MET, metabolic equivalent; SD, standard deviation.

a Weight (kg)/height (m)2.

b 1 g/day of milk ≈ 1 mL/day.

c Such as vocational education.

d Information on pack-years of smoking was available for 35,298 participants.

eInternational Classification of Diseases (Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth revisions) diagnosis codes were collated from the National Patient Registry to calculate weighted Charlson comorbidity scores. The Charlson comorbidity index predicts mortality for a patient who may have a range of up to 17 comorbid conditions. Each condition is assigned a score of 1–6, depending on the risk of dying associated with the condition.

f High cholesterol or ever use of statins.

Table 3.

Characteristics of the Cohort of Swedish Men (Men) According to Milk Consumption at the 1997 Baseline (n = 45,280)

Characteristic Milk Intake, glasses/day 
<1 1–<2 2–<3 ≥3 
Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons 
All participants  20,144 44.5  10,803 23.9  7,459 16.5  6,874 15.2 
Age at entry, years 59.5 (9.6)   61.2 (9.9)   61.1 (9.8)   60.1 (9.5)   
Body mass indexa (n = 42,975) 25.6 (3.2)   25.6 (3.3)   25.9 (3.4)   26.4 (3.6)   
Height, m (n = 43,190) 1.77 (0.07)   1.77 (0.07)   1.77 (0.07)   1.77 (0.07)   
Dietary intake             
 Energy, kcal/day 2,511 (789)   2,583 (772)   2,749 (798)   3,129 (914)   
 Milk, g/dayb 64.7 (68.3)   267.5 (59.4)   467.3 (49.3)   909.1 (372.4)   
 Yogurt, g/day 181.4 (237.6)   165.7 (222.1)   177.9 (245.2)   185.6 (286.8)   
 Cheese, g/day 72.8 (59.8)   70.6 (54.9)   75.0 (57.7)   85.8 (66.1)   
 Fruit, g/day (n = 44,870) 182.1 (140.6)   182.5 (133.0)   173.8 (137.3)   162.1 (131.3)   
 Vegetables, g/day (n = 45,110) 184.2 (125.0)   181.2 (123.6)   173.0 (118.3)   163.5 (118.7)   
 Fruit and vegetables, servings/day 4.2 (2.5)   4.2 (2.4)   3.9 (2.4)   3.7 (2.3)   
 Oxygen radical absorbance capacity,  µmol/day 14,218 (5,376)   14,740 (5,354)   14,834 (5,563)   15,153 (5,708)   
 Red and processed meat, g/day 101.9 (63.8)   102.3 (63.8)   103.3 (59.2)   108.8 (61.4)   
 Protein, g/day 98.3 (14.7)   102.1 (13.9)   105.4 (14.0)   111.3 (15.1)   
 Total fat, g/day 89.6 (15.5)   89.3 (14.6)   89.2 (14.9)   89.0 (15.6)   
 Saturated fat, g/day 40.3 (9.5)   40.6 (9.1)   41.2 (9.5)   42.0 (10.0)   
 Calcium, mg/day 1,247 (386)   1,450 (370)   1,640 (386)   1,945 (483)   
 Vitamin D, μg/day 6.1 (3.0)   6.7 (2.9)   7.0 (2.9)   7.7 (3.0)   
 Phosphorus, mg/day 1,922 (294)   2,063 (282)   2,185 (292)   2,387 (350)   
 Retinol, mg/day 1.19 (0.96)   1.25 (0.85)   1.28 (0.71)   1.35 (0.74)   
 Alcohol, g/day (n = 40,493) 17.0 (22.9)   13.7 (17.6)   13.1 (18.7)   14.2 (26.8)   
Physical activity, MET-hours/day (n = 34,812) 41.2 (4.8)   41.5 (4.8)   41.8 (5.0)   42.3 (5.3)   
Leisure-time physical activity, hours/week (n = 40,496)             
 <1  3,988 22.1  1,940 20.0  1,452 21.7  1,488 24.6 
 1  3,470 19.2  1,845 19.0  1,295 19.4  1,078 17.9 
 2–3  5,691 31.5  3,127 32.2  2,064 30.9  1,792 29.7 
 4–5  2,315 12.8  1,256 12.9  876 13.1  728 12.1 
 >5  2,592 14.4  1,547 15.9  999 14.9  953 15.8 
Education, years (n = 45,129)             
 ≤9  13,072 65.1  7,437 69.0  5,502 74.1  5,308 77.5 
 10–12  3,151 15.7  1,526 14.2  884 11.9  710 10.4 
 >12  3,775 18.8  1,764 16.4  1,021 13.7  800 11.7 
 Otherc  80 0.4  46 0.4  23 0.3  30 0.4 
Smoking status (n = 44,858)             
 Never smoker  6,996 35.0  4,152 38.7  2,718 36.9  2,301 33.8 
 Former smoker  8,191 41.0  4,028 37.6  2,694 36.6  2,488 36.6 
  <20 pack-yearsd  4,884 25.8  2,381 23.6  1,535 22.3  1,337 21.0 
  ≥20 pack-years  2,656 14.1  1,277 12.6  895 13.0  900 14.1 
 Current smoker  4,786 24.0  2,539 23.7  1,954 26.5  2,011 29.6 
  <20 pack-years  1,763 9.3  933 9.2  712 10.3  653 10.2 
  ≥20 pack-years  2,599 13.8  1,352 13.4  1,027 14.9  1,188 18.6 
Living alone  3,317 16.5  1,831 16.9  1,311 17.6  1,376 20.0 
Charlson comorbidity indexe             
 0  17,102 84.9  8,892 82.3  6,182 82.9  5,667 82.4 
 1  2,152 10.7  1,314 12.2  883 11.8  838 12.2 
 ≥2  890 4.4  597 5.5  394 5.3  369 5.4 
Current use of calcium-containing supplements (regular or occasional)  2,912 14.5  1,526 14.1  976 13.1  837 12.2 
Ever use of antioxidant-containing supplements  6,395 31.7  3,380 31.3  2,250 30.2  1,978 28.8 
Ever use of aspirin  6,500 32.3  3,585 33.2  2,397 32.1  2,255 32.8 
Ever hypercholesterolemiaf  8,967 44.5  4,704 43.5  3,221 43.2  3,145 45.8 
Ever use of cortisone  843 4.2  449 4.2  309 4.1  310 4.5 
Characteristic Milk Intake, glasses/day 
<1 1–<2 2–<3 ≥3 
Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons Mean (SD) No. of Persons 
All participants  20,144 44.5  10,803 23.9  7,459 16.5  6,874 15.2 
Age at entry, years 59.5 (9.6)   61.2 (9.9)   61.1 (9.8)   60.1 (9.5)   
Body mass indexa (n = 42,975) 25.6 (3.2)   25.6 (3.3)   25.9 (3.4)   26.4 (3.6)   
Height, m (n = 43,190) 1.77 (0.07)   1.77 (0.07)   1.77 (0.07)   1.77 (0.07)   
Dietary intake             
 Energy, kcal/day 2,511 (789)   2,583 (772)   2,749 (798)   3,129 (914)   
 Milk, g/dayb 64.7 (68.3)   267.5 (59.4)   467.3 (49.3)   909.1 (372.4)   
 Yogurt, g/day 181.4 (237.6)   165.7 (222.1)   177.9 (245.2)   185.6 (286.8)   
 Cheese, g/day 72.8 (59.8)   70.6 (54.9)   75.0 (57.7)   85.8 (66.1)   
 Fruit, g/day (n = 44,870) 182.1 (140.6)   182.5 (133.0)   173.8 (137.3)   162.1 (131.3)   
 Vegetables, g/day (n = 45,110) 184.2 (125.0)   181.2 (123.6)   173.0 (118.3)   163.5 (118.7)   
 Fruit and vegetables, servings/day 4.2 (2.5)   4.2 (2.4)   3.9 (2.4)   3.7 (2.3)   
 Oxygen radical absorbance capacity,  µmol/day 14,218 (5,376)   14,740 (5,354)   14,834 (5,563)   15,153 (5,708)   
 Red and processed meat, g/day 101.9 (63.8)   102.3 (63.8)   103.3 (59.2)   108.8 (61.4)   
 Protein, g/day 98.3 (14.7)   102.1 (13.9)   105.4 (14.0)   111.3 (15.1)   
 Total fat, g/day 89.6 (15.5)   89.3 (14.6)   89.2 (14.9)   89.0 (15.6)   
 Saturated fat, g/day 40.3 (9.5)   40.6 (9.1)   41.2 (9.5)   42.0 (10.0)   
 Calcium, mg/day 1,247 (386)   1,450 (370)   1,640 (386)   1,945 (483)   
 Vitamin D, μg/day 6.1 (3.0)   6.7 (2.9)   7.0 (2.9)   7.7 (3.0)   
 Phosphorus, mg/day 1,922 (294)   2,063 (282)   2,185 (292)   2,387 (350)   
 Retinol, mg/day 1.19 (0.96)   1.25 (0.85)   1.28 (0.71)   1.35 (0.74)   
 Alcohol, g/day (n = 40,493) 17.0 (22.9)   13.7 (17.6)   13.1 (18.7)   14.2 (26.8)   
Physical activity, MET-hours/day (n = 34,812) 41.2 (4.8)   41.5 (4.8)   41.8 (5.0)   42.3 (5.3)   
Leisure-time physical activity, hours/week (n = 40,496)             
 <1  3,988 22.1  1,940 20.0  1,452 21.7  1,488 24.6 
 1  3,470 19.2  1,845 19.0  1,295 19.4  1,078 17.9 
 2–3  5,691 31.5  3,127 32.2  2,064 30.9  1,792 29.7 
 4–5  2,315 12.8  1,256 12.9  876 13.1  728 12.1 
 >5  2,592 14.4  1,547 15.9  999 14.9  953 15.8 
Education, years (n = 45,129)             
 ≤9  13,072 65.1  7,437 69.0  5,502 74.1  5,308 77.5 
 10–12  3,151 15.7  1,526 14.2  884 11.9  710 10.4 
 >12  3,775 18.8  1,764 16.4  1,021 13.7  800 11.7 
 Otherc  80 0.4  46 0.4  23 0.3  30 0.4 
Smoking status (n = 44,858)             
 Never smoker  6,996 35.0  4,152 38.7  2,718 36.9  2,301 33.8 
 Former smoker  8,191 41.0  4,028 37.6  2,694 36.6  2,488 36.6 
  <20 pack-yearsd  4,884 25.8  2,381 23.6  1,535 22.3  1,337 21.0 
  ≥20 pack-years  2,656 14.1  1,277 12.6  895 13.0  900 14.1 
 Current smoker  4,786 24.0  2,539 23.7  1,954 26.5  2,011 29.6 
  <20 pack-years  1,763 9.3  933 9.2  712 10.3  653 10.2 
  ≥20 pack-years  2,599 13.8  1,352 13.4  1,027 14.9  1,188 18.6 
Living alone  3,317 16.5  1,831 16.9  1,311 17.6  1,376 20.0 
Charlson comorbidity indexe             
 0  17,102 84.9  8,892 82.3  6,182 82.9  5,667 82.4 
 1  2,152 10.7  1,314 12.2  883 11.8  838 12.2 
 ≥2  890 4.4  597 5.5  394 5.3  369 5.4 
Current use of calcium-containing supplements (regular or occasional)  2,912 14.5  1,526 14.1  976 13.1  837 12.2 
Ever use of antioxidant-containing supplements  6,395 31.7  3,380 31.3  2,250 30.2  1,978 28.8 
Ever use of aspirin  6,500 32.3  3,585 33.2  2,397 32.1  2,255 32.8 
Ever hypercholesterolemiaf  8,967 44.5  4,704 43.5  3,221 43.2  3,145 45.8 
Ever use of cortisone  843 4.2  449 4.2  309 4.1  310 4.5 

Abbreviations: MET, metabolic equivalent; SD, standard deviation.

a Weight (kg)/height (m)2.

b 1 g/day of milk ≈ 1 mL/day.

c Such as vocational education.

d Information on pack-years of smoking was available for 42,259 participants.

eInternational Classification of Diseases (Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth revisions) diagnosis codes were collated from the National Patient Registry to calculate weighted Charlson comorbidity scores. The Charlson comorbidity index predicts mortality for a patient who may have a range of up to 17 comorbid conditions. Each condition is assigned a score of 1–6, depending on the risk of dying associated with the condition.

f High cholesterol or ever use of statins.

During a mean follow-up period of 23 years (maximum 29 years), 22,391 women (total time at risk = 1,434,171 person-years) died. From January 1, 1998, onward, 10,314 women (581,785 person-years) and 15,478 men (687,688 person-years) died during a mean follow-up period of 15 years (maximum 17 years). Death rates increased in both sexes with increasing milk consumption (Figure 1A), and death rates decreased with higher consumption of fruit and vegetables (Figure 1B), as well as with higher ORACs (Figure 1C), although a threshold seemed to be discerned (>5 servings of fruit/vegetables per day and 15,000 µmol ORAC/day). In men, higher death rates started to be observed after only 3 or more glasses of milk per day (Figure 1A). In women, death rates were already increased at 1–2 glasses of milk per day.

Figure 1.

Sex-specific multivariable-adjusted spline curves illustrating the relationship of milk intake (A), fruit and vegetable intake (B), and oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC; µmol/day) (C) with hazard ratios for death from all causes by the use of time-updated information in the whole Swedish Mammography Cohort (SMC; baseline 1987–1990) (solid line), in the SMC after administration of the second food frequency questionnaire (baseline 1997) (short-dashed line), and in the Cohort of Swedish Men (baseline 1998) (long-dashed line). The shaded areas illustrate 95% confidence intervals. One glass of milk corresponds to 200 mL. Covariates were age, body mass index (weight (kg)/height (m)2), height, energy intake, alcohol intake, intakes of yogurt, cheese, and red and processed meat, education, marital status (living alone vs. not), physical activity (metabolic equivalent-hours/day), smoking habits (never, former, or current smoker and, for baseline 1997, also pack-years of smoking), ever use of antioxidant-containing supplements, and weighted Charlson's comorbidity index. Associations with milk intake were further adjusted for intake of fruit and vegetables, and associations with fruit and vegetable intake and ORAC were adjusted for intake of milk.

Figure 1.

Sex-specific multivariable-adjusted spline curves illustrating the relationship of milk intake (A), fruit and vegetable intake (B), and oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC; µmol/day) (C) with hazard ratios for death from all causes by the use of time-updated information in the whole Swedish Mammography Cohort (SMC; baseline 1987–1990) (solid line), in the SMC after administration of the second food frequency questionnaire (baseline 1997) (short-dashed line), and in the Cohort of Swedish Men (baseline 1998) (long-dashed line). The shaded areas illustrate 95% confidence intervals. One glass of milk corresponds to 200 mL. Covariates were age, body mass index (weight (kg)/height (m)2), height, energy intake, alcohol intake, intakes of yogurt, cheese, and red and processed meat, education, marital status (living alone vs. not), physical activity (metabolic equivalent-hours/day), smoking habits (never, former, or current smoker and, for baseline 1997, also pack-years of smoking), ever use of antioxidant-containing supplements, and weighted Charlson's comorbidity index. Associations with milk intake were further adjusted for intake of fruit and vegetables, and associations with fruit and vegetable intake and ORAC were adjusted for intake of milk.

In further analyses, we combined milk intake with fruit and vegetable consumption, as well as with ORACs. In Table 4, we present age-adjusted rates and numbers of deaths by each combination category. The rate of mortality was highest among persons consuming less than 1 serving of fruit and vegetables per day (or in the lowest quartile of ORAC) combined with a high consumption of milk, in both men and women. In contrast, the lowest age-adjusted mortality rates were found in women and men who reported high consumption of fruits and vegetables or had high ORACs combined with low intake of milk.

Table 4.

Age-Standardized Rates of Mortality in the Swedish Mammography Cohort (Women) and the Cohort of Swedish Men (Men) per 1,000 Person-Years at Risk, According to Milk Consumption, Fruit and Vegetable Intake, and Quartile of Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, 1987–2015a

 Milk Intake, glasses/day 
<1 1–<2 2–<3 ≥3 
Mortality Rate 95% CI No. of Cases PY at Risk Total No.b Mortality Rate 95% CI No. of Cases PY at Risk Total No. Mortality Rate 95% CI No. of Cases PY at Risk Total No. Mortality Rate 95% CI No. of Cases PY at Risk Total No. 
Swedish Mammography Cohort (Women), Baseline 1987–1990 (Time-Updated Analysesc) 
Fruit/vegetable  intake,  servings/day                     
 <1 22.5 20.3, 24.8 416 16,627  23.3 21.3, 25.4 509 20,458  28.6 25.8, 31.7 423 15,336  27.1 23.3, 31.5 213 8,424  
 1–<2 17.1 16.1, 18.2 971 53,107  19.6 18.5, 20.7 1,264 62,158  19.8 18.3, 21.3 776 42,498  21.5 19.1, 24.2 310 17,065  
 2–<5 14.1 13.7, 14.5 4,116 283,776  15.5 15.0, 15.9 4,389 282,627  17.6 16.9, 18.4 2,257 143,057  19.4 17.9, 21.0 734 47,815  
 ≥5 12.1 11.7, 12.6 2,786 218,644  13.3 12.8, 13.9 2,168 149,108  15.1 14.1, 16.2 812 56,873  17.1 15.0, 19.4 247 16,597  
Swedish Mammography Cohort (Women), Baseline 1997 
Fruit/vegetable  intake,  servings/day                     
 <1 27.7 23.8, 32.1 219  413 32.5 25.5, 40.7 92  160 41.8 28.0, 60.0 29  52 40.2 19.9, 72.0 12  20 
 1–<2 21.9 20.1, 23.7 624  1,541 23.8 20.8, 27.2 240  528 21.6 16.6, 27.6 66  171 29.3 18.9, 43.6 29  51 
 2–<5 18.2 17.6, 18.8 3,277  11,827 18.8 17.7, 20.0 1,124  3,325 21.5 19.3, 23.8 373  1,025 23.6 19.4, 28.4 113  296 
 ≥5 16.0 15.4, 16.7 2,827  12,836 17.4 16.3, 18.6 926  3,269 18.8 16.7, 21.2 284  909 18.0 14.2, 22.5 79  291 
Cohort of Swedish Men, Baseline 1997 
Fruit/vegetable  intake,  servings/day                     
 <1 32.8 29.6, 36.3 383  774 32.2 27.9, 37.1 227  399 32.6 27.8, 38.0 191  331 32.5 28.4, 37.1 228  457 
 1–<2 25.7 24.1, 27.5 890  2,354 26.4 24.2, 28.7 571  1,300 28.3 25.8, 30.9 488  1,097 26.5 24.1, 29.2 438  1,133 
 2–<5 21.4 20.7, 22.2 3,291  10,889 22.4 21.4, 23.4 2,087  5,979 23.2 22.0, 24.4 1,434  4,100 24.6 23.3, 26.0 1,312  3,773 
 ≥5 20.2 19.3, 21.2 1,754  6,127 21.7 20.4, 23.0 1,030  3,125 21.4 19.7, 23.1 634  1,931 22.9 21.0, 24.9 520  1,511 
                     
Swedish Mammography Cohort (Women), Baseline 1997d 
ORAC quartile                     
 1 20.0 19.2, 20.8 2,298  6,850 22.2 20.6, 24.0 698  1,705 25.9 22.4, 29.8 202  467 27.0 21.0, 34.1 76  157 
 2 17.3 16.4, 18.1 1,711  6,729 19.0 17.5, 20.6 586  1,759 21.1 18.2, 24.3 194  555 22.1 15.9, 29.8 43  135 
 3 16.9 16.0, 17.7 1,622  6,667 17.0 15.6, 18.5 538  1,843 19.0 16.1, 22.2 159  508 19.7 14.6, 25.9 51  161 
 4 15.8 15.0, 16.7 1,316  6,371 17.3 15.9, 18.8 560  1,975 18.5 16.0, 21.2 197  627 19.5 15.0, 25.0 63  205 
Cohort of Swedish Men, Baseline 1997e 
ORAC quartile                     
 1 25.1 24.1, 26.2 2,180  5,517 26.7 25.1, 28.3 1,160  2,564 28.1 26.2, 30.1 833  1,731 29.7 27.4, 32.0 659  1,508 
 2 21.8 20.7, 22.9 1,617  5,154 21.6 20.3, 23.1 943  2,645 24.1 22.4, 25.9 710  1,857 25.4 23.4, 27.4 625  1,664 
 3 20.3 19.2, 21.4 1,361  4,906 22.2 20.8, 23.6 947  2,809 22.3 20.6, 24.2 610  1,904 23.2 21.3, 25.2 566  1,701 
 4 19.9 18.7, 21.1 1,160  4,567 21.6 20.2, 23.1 865  2,785 20.9 19.2, 22.7 594  1,967 23.1 21.3, 24.9 648  2,001 
 Milk Intake, glasses/day 
<1 1–<2 2–<3 ≥3 
Mortality Rate 95% CI No. of Cases PY at Risk Total No.b Mortality Rate 95% CI No. of Cases PY at Risk Total No. Mortality Rate 95% CI No. of Cases PY at Risk Total No. Mortality Rate 95% CI No. of Cases PY at Risk Total No. 
Swedish Mammography Cohort (Women), Baseline 1987–1990 (Time-Updated Analysesc) 
Fruit/vegetable  intake,  servings/day                     
 <1 22.5 20.3, 24.8 416 16,627  23.3 21.3, 25.4 509 20,458  28.6 25.8, 31.7 423 15,336  27.1 23.3, 31.5 213 8,424  
 1–<2 17.1 16.1, 18.2 971 53,107  19.6 18.5, 20.7 1,264 62,158  19.8 18.3, 21.3 776 42,498  21.5 19.1, 24.2 310 17,065  
 2–<5 14.1 13.7, 14.5 4,116 283,776  15.5 15.0, 15.9 4,389 282,627  17.6 16.9, 18.4 2,257 143,057  19.4 17.9, 21.0 734 47,815  
 ≥5 12.1 11.7, 12.6 2,786 218,644  13.3 12.8, 13.9 2,168 149,108  15.1 14.1, 16.2 812 56,873  17.1 15.0, 19.4 247 16,597  
Swedish Mammography Cohort (Women), Baseline 1997 
Fruit/vegetable  intake,  servings/day                     
 <1 27.7 23.8, 32.1 219  413 32.5 25.5, 40.7 92  160 41.8 28.0, 60.0 29  52 40.2 19.9, 72.0 12  20 
 1–<2 21.9 20.1, 23.7 624  1,541 23.8 20.8, 27.2 240  528 21.6 16.6, 27.6 66  171 29.3 18.9, 43.6 29  51 
 2–<5 18.2 17.6, 18.8 3,277  11,827 18.8 17.7, 20.0 1,124  3,325 21.5 19.3, 23.8 373  1,025 23.6 19.4, 28.4 113  296 
 ≥5 16.0 15.4, 16.7 2,827  12,836 17.4 16.3, 18.6 926  3,269 18.8 16.7, 21.2 284  909 18.0 14.2, 22.5 79  291 
Cohort of Swedish Men, Baseline 1997 
Fruit/vegetable  intake,  servings/day                     
 <1 32.8 29.6, 36.3 383  774 32.2 27.9, 37.1 227  399 32.6 27.8, 38.0 191  331 32.5 28.4, 37.1 228  457 
 1–<2 25.7 24.1, 27.5 890  2,354 26.4 24.2, 28.7 571  1,300 28.3 25.8, 30.9 488  1,097 26.5 24.1, 29.2 438  1,133 
 2–<5 21.4 20.7, 22.2 3,291  10,889 22.4 21.4, 23.4 2,087  5,979 23.2 22.0, 24.4 1,434  4,100 24.6 23.3, 26.0 1,312  3,773 
 ≥5 20.2 19.3, 21.2 1,754  6,127 21.7 20.4, 23.0 1,030  3,125 21.4 19.7, 23.1 634  1,931 22.9 21.0, 24.9 520  1,511 
                     
Swedish Mammography Cohort (Women), Baseline 1997d 
ORAC quartile                     
 1 20.0 19.2, 20.8 2,298  6,850 22.2 20.6, 24.0 698  1,705 25.9 22.4, 29.8 202  467 27.0 21.0, 34.1 76  157 
 2 17.3 16.4, 18.1 1,711  6,729 19.0 17.5, 20.6 586  1,759 21.1 18.2, 24.3 194  555 22.1 15.9, 29.8 43  135 
 3 16.9 16.0, 17.7 1,622  6,667 17.0 15.6, 18.5 538  1,843 19.0 16.1, 22.2 159  508 19.7 14.6, 25.9 51  161 
 4 15.8 15.0, 16.7 1,316  6,371 17.3 15.9, 18.8 560  1,975 18.5 16.0, 21.2 197  627 19.5 15.0, 25.0 63  205 
Cohort of Swedish Men, Baseline 1997e 
ORAC quartile                     
 1 25.1 24.1, 26.2 2,180  5,517 26.7 25.1, 28.3 1,160  2,564 28.1 26.2, 30.1 833  1,731 29.7 27.4, 32.0 659  1,508 
 2 21.8 20.7, 22.9 1,617  5,154 21.6 20.3, 23.1 943  2,645 24.1 22.4, 25.9 710  1,857 25.4 23.4, 27.4 625  1,664 
 3 20.3 19.2, 21.4 1,361  4,906 22.2 20.8, 23.6 947  2,809 22.3 20.6, 24.2 610  1,904 23.2 21.3, 25.2 566  1,701 
 4 19.9 18.7, 21.1 1,160  4,567 21.6 20.2, 23.1 865  2,785 20.9 19.2, 22.7 594  1,967 23.1 21.3, 24.9 648  2,001 

Abbreviations: CI, confidence interval; ORAC, oxygen radical absorbance capacity; PY, person-years.

a Baseline dates varied by cohort and analysis. Follow-up ended on September 30, 2015.

b Total number of participants in category.

c Because of the time-updated exposures, person-years at risk are given.

d Median ORAC value: quartile 1 (<9,546 µmol/day), 7,914 µmol/day; quartile 2 (9,546–<12,217 µmol/day), 10,892 µmol/day; quartile 3 (12,217–<15,488 µmol/day), 13,653 µmol/day; quartile 4 (≥15,488 µmol/day), 18,331 µmol/day.

e Median ORAC value: quartile 1 (<10,880 µmol/day), 8,967 µmol/day; quartile 2 (10,880–<13,881 µmol/day), 12,418 µmol/day; quartile 3 (13,881–<17,457 µmol/day), 15,477 µmol/day; quartile 4 (≥17,457 µmol/day), 20,490 µmol/day.

Figures 2 and 3 depict the multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios for mortality by milk and fruit/vegetable intake or ORAC, using the group with the lowest intake of milk (<1 glass/day) and the highest intake of fruit and vegetables (≥5 servings/day) or ORAC (highest quartile) as the reference. Hazard ratios for mortality tended to increase with higher milk consumption in every category of fruit and vegetable intake or ORAC, although the estimates were attenuated with increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables or ORAC. The pattern was clearer with time-updated information as compared with a single exposure assessment. Accordingly, in time-updated analysis of the SMC, a high intake of milk (≥3 glasses/day) with a concomitant low intake of fruit and vegetables (<1 serving/day) conferred a multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio of 2.79 (95% confidence interval (CI): 2.42, 3.21), and with a combined high intake of fruit and vegetables, the hazard ratio was 1.60 (95% CI: 1.40, 1.82). In women with a single exposure assessment, the corresponding estimates were 1.81 (95% CI: 1.03, 3.20) and 1.10 (95% CI: 0.88, 1.38), respectively. The same comparisons in men revealed a hazard ratio of 1.31 (95% CI: 1.14, 1.51) for high consumers of milk with a low fruit and vegetable intake and a hazard ratio of 1.07 (95% CI: 0.97, 1.18) for high consumers of milk who also consumed 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day. If we used ORAC intake instead of fruit and vegetable intake as the effect-measure modifier, the estimates remained essentially unaltered. The relative excess risk of interaction estimate of 0.37 (95% CI: 0.01, 1.27) in the time-updated analysis of women indicated a modest additive interaction. No significant interaction was discovered among men (data not shown).

Figure 2.

Adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (in parentheses) for all-cause mortality according to combined intakes of milk and fruit and vegetables, using persons with the lowest milk intake and the highest fruit and vegetable intake as the reference group. A) HRs based on time-updated information on the whole Swedish Mammography Cohort (SMC) (women, baseline 1987–1990); B) HRs based on the SMC after administration of the second food frequency questionnaire (women, baseline 1997); C) HRs based on the Cohort of Swedish Men (men, baseline 1997). The shading corresponds to the value of the HR; the darker the shading, the larger the HR. One glass of milk corresponds to 200 mL. Covariates were age, body mass index (weight (kg)/height (m)2), height, energy intake, alcohol intake, intakes of yogurt, cheese, and red and processed meat, education, marital status (living alone vs. not), physical activity (metabolic equivalent-hours/day), smoking habits (never, former, or current smoker and, for baseline 1997, also pack-years of smoking), ever use of antioxidant-containing supplements, and weighted Charlson's comorbidity index.

Figure 2.

Adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (in parentheses) for all-cause mortality according to combined intakes of milk and fruit and vegetables, using persons with the lowest milk intake and the highest fruit and vegetable intake as the reference group. A) HRs based on time-updated information on the whole Swedish Mammography Cohort (SMC) (women, baseline 1987–1990); B) HRs based on the SMC after administration of the second food frequency questionnaire (women, baseline 1997); C) HRs based on the Cohort of Swedish Men (men, baseline 1997). The shading corresponds to the value of the HR; the darker the shading, the larger the HR. One glass of milk corresponds to 200 mL. Covariates were age, body mass index (weight (kg)/height (m)2), height, energy intake, alcohol intake, intakes of yogurt, cheese, and red and processed meat, education, marital status (living alone vs. not), physical activity (metabolic equivalent-hours/day), smoking habits (never, former, or current smoker and, for baseline 1997, also pack-years of smoking), ever use of antioxidant-containing supplements, and weighted Charlson's comorbidity index.

Figure 3.

Adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (in parentheses) for all-cause mortality according to combined daily intake of milk and oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC; µmol/day), using persons with the lowest intake of milk and the highest quartile of ORAC as the reference group. A) HRs based on the Swedish Mammography Cohort after administration of the second food frequency questionnaire (women, baseline 1997); B) HRs based on the Cohort of Swedish Men (men, baseline 1997). The shading corresponds to the value of the HR; the darker the shading, the larger the HR. One glass of milk corresponds to 200 mL. Covariates were age, body mass index (weight (kg)/height (m)2), height, energy intake, alcohol intake, intakes of yogurt, cheese, and red and processed meat, education, marital status (living alone vs. not), physical activity (metabolic equivalent-hours/day), smoking habits (never, former, or current smoker and pack-years of smoking), ever use of antioxidant-containing supplements, and weighted Charlson's comorbidity index.

Figure 3.

Adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (in parentheses) for all-cause mortality according to combined daily intake of milk and oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC; µmol/day), using persons with the lowest intake of milk and the highest quartile of ORAC as the reference group. A) HRs based on the Swedish Mammography Cohort after administration of the second food frequency questionnaire (women, baseline 1997); B) HRs based on the Cohort of Swedish Men (men, baseline 1997). The shading corresponds to the value of the HR; the darker the shading, the larger the HR. One glass of milk corresponds to 200 mL. Covariates were age, body mass index (weight (kg)/height (m)2), height, energy intake, alcohol intake, intakes of yogurt, cheese, and red and processed meat, education, marital status (living alone vs. not), physical activity (metabolic equivalent-hours/day), smoking habits (never, former, or current smoker and pack-years of smoking), ever use of antioxidant-containing supplements, and weighted Charlson's comorbidity index.

Hazard ratios were not attenuated in women after additional adjustment, including adjustment for vitamin and mineral nutrients common in milk, although they were somewhat attenuated in men (see

, available at http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/). The total number of cardiovascular disease or cancer deaths was less than half that of the number of deaths from any cause ( and ). Nevertheless, for cardiovascular mortality (), the hazard ratios remained similar to estimates of all-cause mortality, whereas hazard ratios for cancer mortality were lower (). Exclusion of the first 2 years of follow-up (; 2%–5% of all deaths were excluded, depending on the analysis), persons with a body mass index greater than 35 (; 2% of all deaths were excluded), and current smokers (; 24%–29% of all deaths were excluded) gave estimates similar to those seen in the total cohort.

DISCUSSION

In 2 independent population-based cohorts, mortality rates were highest in persons with high consumption of milk combined with low consumption of fruits and vegetables or a low ORAC. However, the gradient of risk with increasing milk consumption was more pronounced in women, and an additive interaction for mortality rates between milk consumption and fruit and vegetable consumption was found only in women.

The findings of our observational investigation should not be evaluated in isolation and have to be interpreted cautiously. A recent attempt to perform a meta-analysis demonstrated substantial heterogeneity in nonfermented milk consumption among cohort studies in relation to mortality from all causes (43). Heterogeneity among studies was observed in most subgroups defined by sex, country, and study quality (43). Besides methodological differences, a potential explanation for the inconsistent findings may be related to the variability in the range of milk consumption in different populations and, as also indicated by our present study, by different patterns of intake of antioxidant-rich foods in the populations. To our knowledge, no randomized trial has examined the association of milk intake with incidence of mortality, and this study design is unlikely to ever be implemented. Another possible analytical approach might be the use of genetic variation in lactase persistence within a Mendelian randomization study design, but this specific genetic variant is probably weak as an instrumental variable (44), with conceivable pleiotropic effects (45, 46).

The present study extends our previous finding of higher mortality rates with high milk consumption (1). Our postulated mechanism is that milk consumption induces oxidative stress by way of the galactose component of lactose, because galactose supplementation results in premature aging in animals through induction of oxidative stress and inflammation (25). Oxidative stress induced by galactose is a consequence of an imbalance between prooxidant and antioxidant defenses, which causes accumulation of advanced glycation end-products and reactive oxygen species, especially superoxide radicals and hydrogen peroxide (25). Indeed, we have previously noted higher concentrations of oxidative stress and inflammation markers in human urine and serum with high consumption of milk (1).

Mortality rates were increased at more moderate levels of milk consumption in women as compared with men; excess mortality was seen with 1–2 glasses of milk per day in women, while twice that amount was necessary for the observation of excess mortality in men. A sex difference in sensitivity to galactose exposure has been identified experimentally (68), and galactose elimination capacity is also higher in men than in women, but it declines with increasing age (4749).

Galactose is used in the endogenous production of human breast milk. Most lactose in human breast milk is synthesized from galactose taken up from the blood, and only one-third is made from endogenous synthesis (50). Liver glycogen in infants is formed mainly from breast milk–derived galactose (51), and it acts as a reservoir for subsequent hepatic glucose release to the circulation during times of fasting (52, 53). A lower female degradation of galactose might have been an evolutionary survival mechanism for the child. Specifically, the enzyme galactose-1-phosphate uridylyltransferase (GALT) in the Leloir breakdown pathway of galactose (Figure 4) has a higher activity in male animals than in female animals (7, 54, 55). GALT deficiency is also the main cause of galactosemia, an inborn error of metabolism resulting in early death without avoidance of galactose intake. With lower capacity of galactose degradation to glucose by the Leloir pathway, an alternative route is the polyol pathway, where galactose is converted to galactitol by aldose reductase, secondarily leading to free-radical formation (56, 57). In addition, galactose reacts nonenzymatically with amino groups in proteins and peptides, forming advanced glycation end-products (3). Although the exact mechanisms are not known, galactose-treated rodents, flies, and tissue culture cells also display evidence of lower-than-expected antioxidant enzyme activities, suggesting that the normal defenses might be compromised (2, 5, 58).

Figure 4.

Overview of galactose metabolism. The major pathway of galactose metabolism (the Leloir pathway) operates via the enzymes galactokinase (GALK), galactose-1-phosphate uridylyltransferase (GALT), and uridine diphosphate (UDP) galactose 4-epimerase (GALE), resulting in UDP-glucose. The conversion to galactitol by aldose reductase via the polyol pathway results in decreased availability of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) and glutathione, with increased production of free radicals (56). By way of a nonenzymatic reaction with amino groups in proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids, galactose is converted to advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

Figure 4.

Overview of galactose metabolism. The major pathway of galactose metabolism (the Leloir pathway) operates via the enzymes galactokinase (GALK), galactose-1-phosphate uridylyltransferase (GALT), and uridine diphosphate (UDP) galactose 4-epimerase (GALE), resulting in UDP-glucose. The conversion to galactitol by aldose reductase via the polyol pathway results in decreased availability of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) and glutathione, with increased production of free radicals (56). By way of a nonenzymatic reaction with amino groups in proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids, galactose is converted to advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

By reducing oxidative stress and inflammation processes, higher fruit and vegetable intake has convincingly been shown to promote longevity (17, 59) and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (13, 17, 60) and some cancers (61). Intriguingly, and supporting our results in women, there is experimental evidence that fruits and vegetables or extracts of them can rescue animals from the premature aging phenotype induced by galactose supplementation (2024, 62, 63).

We found no clear interaction between milk intake and fruit and vegetable intake in men. This failure to find an interaction could have several explanations. The association between milk and mortality was more modest in men, and a clear excess mortality rate was observed in men only above ≥3 glasses/day, which limited our possibility to detect an interaction pattern with fruit and vegetables. Furthermore, the gene expression and activity of antioxidant enzymes (such as mitochondrial glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase) in animals seem to be higher in females than in males, giving females an enhanced capacity to provide mitigation of oxidative damage through an increased intake of antioxidants (64).

The main strengths of this study were the use of data from 2 large population-based cohorts and the comprehensive FFQ administered in a setting with a wide range of milk intakes and intakes of antioxidant foods. We found consistency in the results irrespective of whether fruit and vegetable consumption or ORAC was used as the effect measure modifier. Loss to follow-up was negligible, because we used the individual personal identification number for linkage to the death registry. Through the use of time-updated information and with a larger number of outcomes in the SMC, we observed stronger estimates compared with use of a single assessment of exposure. Questions regarding fruit and vegetable intake were more diversified in the second FFQ, administered in 1997, but still the mortality rate patterns with a threshold at 5 servings/day were similar (Figure 1B). Our results might not apply to people of other ethnic origins, such as those with a high prevalence of lactose intolerance, or to children and adolescents.

Our observational results in this population of Swedish adults question the value of recommending high consumption of milk, especially in women not meeting the recommended requirements for fruit and vegetable intake (≥5 servings/day).

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Author affiliations: Unit of Orthopedics, Department of Surgical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden (Karl Michaëlsson, Liisa Byberg); Unit of Clinical Pharmacology, Department of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden (Håkan Melhus); and Unit of Nutritional Epidemiology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden (Alicja Wolk).

This work was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council.

The funding organization played no role in the design or conduct of the study.

Conflict of interest: none declared.

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Author notes

Abbreviations: CI, confidence interval; FFQ, food frequency questionnaire; GALT, galactose-1-phosphate uridylyltransferase; HR, hazard ratio; ORAC, oxygen radical absorbance capacity; SD, standard deviation; SMC, Swedish Mammography Cohort.
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