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Study Links Calcium in Dairy Products to Weight Loss

Aired March 30, 2000 - 1:48 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Once touted as nature's most perfect food, milk has become more controversial in recent years, largely because of its fat content. Now some new research suggests that calcium in milk may help people on diets.

Patricia Bannan takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATRICIA BANNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Got milk? Lose weight. That's the potential connection being studied by Michael Zemel at the University of Tennessee. He says that calcium can help regulate body weight.

MICHAEL ZEMEL, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE: The higher the calcium and dairy intake, the lower the amount of body fat in both men and women.

BANNAN: Zemel's study, accepted for publication in a scientific journal, was funded by the National Dairy Council and finds increasing the daily intake of calcium can actually suppress weight gain in mice. When that calcium came from low-fat dairy foods, the weight suppression was even greater.

ZEMEL: You see, it just turned white there. What happened there is a huge amount of calcium just entered that cell.

BANNAN: To translate the mouse research into people, Zemel looked at human fat cells to find a mechanism to explain the effect. He says that high levels of certain hormones in the body, a result of a low-calcium diet, make it easier for the body to store fat.

But Zemel stresses he's found no magic bullet for weight loss.

ZEMEL: We have no information to tell us whether or not simply increasing calcium intake without changing calorie intake and without changing physical activity would have any effect on weight loss.

BANNAN: Obesity researcher Dr. Steven Heymsfield says Zemel's findings are intriguing.

DR. STEVEN HEYMSFIELD, ST. LUKE'S ROOSEVELT HOSPITAL: Here we find something, calcium, that we hadn't really suspected can affect the storage of body fat. This is quite a new finding, so there's still many new possibilities in learning about diet for Americans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANNAN: Obesity experts say more research will show if the calcium-weight connection proves true. But regardless, they say, it's a good idea for all Americans to make sure they get the recommended 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. Now that's the equivalent of about three eight-ounce glasses of milk -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Patricia, could it be just as simple as having more calcium, and then you just lose the weight?

BANNAN: No, by eating more calcium you're not suddenly going to drop wait. More research needs to be done to see how this really translates to people. But what could be the case is that given the same calorie intake, and lifestyle, a person with a higher-calcium diet may weigh a few pounds less than someone with a lower-calcium diet.

Now this study compared low-fat dairy foods to calcium supplements, so we don't know what the effect would be from higher-fat dairy foods or other calcium foods, like calcium-fortified orange juice, tofu. There's no information on that at this point.

PHILLIPS: OK, Patricia Bannan, thank you very much.

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