Cheese and Yogurt May Help to Prevent Heart Attacks and Diabetes

April 16, 2015 Updated: April 20, 2015

A new study shows that yogurt, cheese, and other fermented dairy products may help to prevent heart attacks.

People who ate a lot of cheese had very high levels of butyrate in their stool and urine and much lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol.

This means that the fermented dairy products are being converted by bacteria in the intestines to butyrate that prevents food from forming the bad LDL cholesterol that is associated with increased heart attack risk.

The authors believe that they have shown that fermented dairy products encourage the growth of healthful intestinal bacteria that may help to prevent heart attacks.

Another study of 27,000 people, ages 45 to 74, shows that eating cheese and yogurt lowers risk of type-2 diabetes by 25 percent, while meat increases risk.

How can cheese and yogurt be beneficial when other studies show that milk is associated with increased risk for heart attacks?

Yogurt, cheese, and other fermented milk products have not been associated with increased risk for diabetes, heart attacks, or bone loss, probably because they have very low levels of lactose and galactose.

Fermenting milk breaks down the galactose so that almost no galactose is left in cheese or yogurt. Indeed, several studies have shown that cheese reduces blood levels of the “bad” LDL cholesterol when compared to butter with the same fat content.

Why Milk May Increase Risk for Diabetes and Heart Attacks

We know that D-galactose, a sugar found in milk, causes the same oxidative damage and chronic inflammation that is associated with diabetes, heart attacks, certain cancers, and bone loss. The people who drank milk had increased urine levels of 8-iso-PGF2a (a biomarker of oxidative stress) and serum interleukin 6 (a major inflammatory biomarker).

Chronic exposure of mice, rats, and Drosophila flies to galactose caused their cells to develop signs associated with aging: shorter telomeres and DNA damage (Journal of Neuroscience Research.) Their cells had signs of aging: shorter telomeres and DNA damage.

A study from Sweden followed more than 60,000 women (aged 39–74) for 22 years and 45,000 men (aged 45–79) for 13 years and found that:

• Women who drank three or more glasses of milk daily had twice the death rate of those who drank less than a glass daily and also suffered increased risk for total body bone fractures and hip fractures.

• Men who drank three or more glasses daily had a 10 percent increase in death rate over those who drank less than a glass daily.

• For every glass of milk, the death rate increased 15 percent in women and 3 percent in men. Neither the men nor the women received any protection from fractures by drinking milk.

Another study showed that reducing milk consumption is associated with reduced heart attacks and heart attack deaths (Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, Sept 1, 2002).

Cheese May Explain the “French Paradox”

For more than 50 years the medical community has struggled to explain the “French Paradox” —why people in southern France have a low rate of heart attacks, even though they eat a high-fat diet.

Researchers tried to explain the apparent protection with the fact that these people drank a lot of wine. Several recent studies have questioned whether alcohol in any form offers any protection from heart attacks. The studies that show an association between drinking small amounts of alcohol and reduced risk for heart attacks all include former drinkers in the group of nondrinkers.

Former drinkers include people who were forced to give up drinking because they have had heart attacks, strokes, liver disease, alcoholism, depression, and other life-shortening and heart-attack provoking diseases.

This means that the nondrinker groups were full of people who were already sick, so no really good data shows that drinking alcohol at any level prevents heart attacks.

Taking more than two drinks a day and binge drinking have both been shown to increase risk for heart attacks and heart failure. I speculate that instead of wine, cheese may be the explanation for the “French Paradox.” The traditional French diet includes plenty of cheese and very little milk.

Gabe Mirkin, M.D., has been a practicing physician for over 50 years. He is board-certified in sports medicine, allergy and immunology, pediatrics, and pediatric immunology. This article was originally published on  Subscribe to their free weekly Fitness & Health newsletter


You May Also Like:

*Image of “cheese” via Shutterstock