Cheese & Your Health: CVD, Cancer & Metabolic Syndrome - Cheesy Science or Scientific Revelation? A Brief Review
Cheeses come in all forms and colors.
The article will, among other things, also address the claim that cheese was addictive (see red box) and / or that the consumption of a dairy product with a saturated fat content that is second only to that of butter would harm your cardiovascular and metabolic health.
So, where do we start? Netherlands? Well, even though the Dutch are famous for the many different types of cheese they produce and consume, they are probably not the ones who "invented" it. Rather than that it appears to be certain that the first cheeses were produced 5,000 BC - accidentally.
You can learn more about dairy at the SuppVersity
|Table 1: First Recorded Date for some Major Cheese Varieties (Fox. 1993).|
Is cheese the reason for the "French paradox"?
In said study, Zheng et al. used an NMR-based metabolomics approach "to investigate the differentiation between subjects consuming cheese or milk and to elucidate the potential link to an effect on blood cholesterol level" (Zheng. 2015). To this ends, the researchers recruited fifteen healthy young men for a full crossover study during which all subjects consumed three isocaloric diets with similar fat contents that were either (1) high in milk, (2) high in cheese or (3) contained only limited amounts of dairy for 14 days.
|Only the fat "Norvegia" gouda has cholesterol-lowering effects in an 8 week RCT (Nilsen. 2015).|
"[...] that cheese consumption is associated with an increased level of SCFAs in the gut, possibly induced by stimulation of beneficial gut microbiota, as well as an increased extent of lipid excretion with resultant beneficial effects on cholesterol metabolism"(Zheng. 2015 | my emphasis).In conjunction with the significant reduction of the subjects' TMAO production [Trimethylamine N-oxide has been associated with increased CVD and even cancer risk] of which the authors rightly say that it could "also contribute to potential beneficial effects of cheese intake on the risk of CVD" (Zheng. 2015), the results of this controlled human trial are in stark contrast to the cheese = "high cholesterol" = "bad for your heart" myth that's still so prevalent:
"Overall, this metabolomics study suggests that cheese could be an important piece in the French paradox puzzle. However, further studies are needed to explore the exact metabolic mechanisms linking cheese consumption, stimulation of the gut microflora, and cholesterol metabolism" (Zheng. 2015 | my emphasis)Just as many other researchers working in this area, Zheng et al. received support for their study from the dairy industry - a factor that is as prevalent in other areas of nutrition research, but interestingly most heavily criticized for dairy (Armstrong. 2005) and, obviously, artificial sweeteners.
|Percentages of women reporting a craving for a given food at four different timepoints during their menstrual cycle (Rodin. 1991).|
In general, rather than a role for individual molecules, the existing data appears to suggest "addictive", or rather hyperpalatable foods share common macronutrient compositions that distinguish a dairy queen chocolate ice cream cone with 34 g sugar 10 g fat and 160 mg sodium (+22 extra ingredients) per serving from roasted chicken breast or an apple (Gearhardt. 2011). This does not exclude that you can be "addicted" to cheese, but the same goes for carrots of which Kaplan reported 10 years ago that they got a 49-year-old woman addicted (Kaplan. 1996).
- Beneficial effect on CVD health - "The majority of prospective studies and meta-analyses examining the relationship between milk and dairy product consumption and risk of CVD show that milk and dairy products, excluding butter, are not associated with detrimental effects on CVD mortality or risk biomarkers that include serum LDL-cholesterol" (Lovegrove. 2016).
Figure 1: Unlike 40 g dairy fat from butter, 40g of fat from matured cheddar cheese do not sign. affect the levels of total cholesterol and LDL in a 4 weeks cross-over study in healthy subjects (Nestel. 2005).
"Compared with butter intake, cheese intake (weighted mean difference: 145.0 g/d) reduced low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) by 6.5% (−0.22 mmol/l; 95%CI: −0.29 to −0.14) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) by 3.9% (−0.05 mmol/l; 95%CI: −0.09 to −0.02) but had no effect on triglycerides" (de Goede. 2015).In addition every regular gouda (and many other classic cheeses) contains peptides that have proven to have anti-hypertensive effects (Saito. 2000) and will thus lower the #1 risk factor for stroke and related cardiovascular problems - including death (Fagard. 2008).
- Reduced breast cancer risk - A case-control study from the Netherlands suggests that each 60g increase in gouda intake will reduce the breast cancer risk of 25-64 year-old women (analysed according to age groups) with a 34% reduced risk of breast cancer.
- Anti-NAFLD and pro-metabolic effects - At least in comparison to a butter-fat based diet a similarly low fat (20%) likewise AIN76 (that's std. rodent chow) based diet with freeze-dried cheese powder significantly reduced the accumulation of triglyceride and cholesterol in the liver (P = 0.016 and P < 0.001, respectively) of rats who received the cheese or control diet in a 9-week study.
Figure 2: Liver triglyceride (a) and total cholesterol (b) concentrations in rats fed control or cheese diet. Mean ± standard error. Asterisks indicate significant differences between groups (Higurashi. 2016)
- High nutritional value - Cheese is a low carbohydrate food that's packed with high concentration of essential amino acids saturated fats that could be good, not bad for your health (e.g. conjugated linoleic acid and sphingolipids present in cheese may have anti-carcinogenic properties, too), a lot of highly bioavailable calcium with beneficial effects on bone, teeth, blood pressure and weight loss (when combined with low-energy diets). Reason enough for researchers to state that "[c]heese is an important dairy product and an integral part of a healthful diet due to its substantial contribution to human health" (Walther. 2008).
- Unlike butter, no increase in LDL - Brassard et al. (2017) recently conducted a multicenter, crossover, randomized controlled trial with 92 men and women with abdominal obesity and relatively low HDL-cholesterol concentrations in which they found that diets in which 12.4-12.6% of the total energy intake came from saturated fats came from cheese had sign. lower "bad" LDL-cholesterol concentrations than those eating identical diets with the saturated fat coming from butter, where the levels increased by up to 16.2% (P < 0.05) - interestingly, the inter-group difference in favor of cheese was all-the-more pronounced the "sicker" (=higher baseline LDL) the subjects were (Brassard 2017).
- No ill effect inflammation or glucose management - Another result of the previously cited study by Brassard, et al (2017) is that diets containing ~14% of the total energy from cheese does not further mess with the messed up inflammation and glucose levels of 92 male and female abdominal obese subjects who participated in the scientists' multicenter, crossover, randomized controlled trial.
|A high cheese will also increase the level of the "good lipoproteins" HDL and apo A-I (Thorning. 2015a).|
When consumed in moderation, cheese is not just a highly nutritious food, but can, as a lot of the more recent studies indicate, even have beneficial effects on your cardiovascular and metabolic health that are probably mediated by key nutrients and the beneficial effect cheese will have on your microbiome | Comment!
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