Much research in recent years has touted the benefits of eating dairy -- from trimming your tummy to deterring diabetes.

Now a new study shows eating low-fat dairy can lower blood pressure. It also shows eating low-fat dairy as part of a super low-fat diet can lower blood pressure even more.

More specifically, "our data showed that people who ate more dairy products had lower systolic blood pressure,"says researcher Luc Djosse, MD, of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Systolic blood pressure is the top number of a blood pressure reading; it measures blood pressure in the arteries as the heart beats and is considered a good predictor of heart disease risk, Djosse says, in a new release. The higher the number, the higher the risk.

The research, published in the July issue of Hypertension from the American Heart Association, is based on data from food questionnaires filled out by 4,797 participants in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Family Heart Study.

It shows the systolic blood pressure of people who ate the most low-fat dairy -- more than three servings a day -- was 2.6 points lower than those who ate the least -- less than half a serving a day.

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Low-Fat Diet + High Dairy = Lower Blood Pressure

When the researchers looked closer at the participants' diets, they learned that those whose overall diets were very low fat -- less than 11 percent of calories from fat -- gained the most benefit from eating the most low-fat dairy. Their systolic pressure was 3.5 points lower than those who ate the least dairy.

And when the researchers took into account other high blood pressure factors including age, body mass index, diabetes, and heart disease, they found a 36 percent lower chance of high blood pressure in people who ate the most dairy.

What they didn't find was whether calcium in dairy is the key ingredient to lower blood pressure. The results were independent of how much calcium was consumed. They note in their report that other research has shown calcium supplementation has had little to no effect on blood pressure.

Instead, the researchers say potassium and magnesium may be partly responsible for their study results.

So, too, may be the diets of those who ate the least dairy. The study showed those participants ate more butter, hot dogs, burgers, and eggs, which might account in part for their overall higher blood pressure.

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By Lisa Habib, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCE: Djosse, L. Hypertension, July 2006; vol 48. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: "Hypertension: Diagnosing High Blood Pressure."