Is cheese the secret to heart health?

A small study linked cheese consumption to lower CVD risk.
A small study linked cheese consumption to lower CVD risk.

If there is one thing I love in life, it is cheese. I will go out of my way just to sample a restaurant's cheese plate, and I love to sample local cheeses everywhere I go. But there is a stigma attached to cheese – often times I think of it as a guilty pleasure. High in saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories, Americans often consider cheese to be a food that is best consumed in very small quantities if at all. However, a recent study by Danish researchers sets out to change this idea.

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The Danish researchers took a look at the French diet and rates of cardiovascular disease. The researchers found that although their diet contains a lot of cheese, French people have low rates of cardiovascular disease. In fact, the French consume the most cheese out of any country worldwide.1 Could it be that cheese is actually good for you?

To figure out if cheese had any effect on the heart, the researchers had 15 males adhere to either a diet high in cheese, a diet high in milk, or a control diet for 2 weeks. The groups that consumed diets high in milk or cheese had equal daily intakes of calcium.

The researchers also took samples of urine and feces. The men in the groups that consumed cheese and milk excreted higher amounts of short-chain fatty acids than the control group, which are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. The control group excreted higher amounts of TMAO, a molecule that has a correlation to heart disease.

In addition, according to the study, “Compared with milk intake, cheese consumption significantly reduced urinary citrate, creatine, and creatinine levels and significantly increased the microbiota-related metabolites butyrate, hippurate, and malonate. Correlation analyses indicated that microbial and lipid metabolism could be involved in the dairy-induced effects on blood cholesterol level.”2

Could this information be the key that America needs to welcome cheese back into our open arms? I certainly hope so. However, the study's small sample size and short duration makes me think more research needs to be done on a broader scale and for a much longer period of time. In addition, the study needs to include women, children, and the elderly (I'll certainly volunteer).  And of course, while cheese may help prevent heart disease, it is also important to remember that the French eat everything in moderation and are known for their active lifestyles. While it's still too early on to know for certain, I simply love the way this research is headed!

Jillian Knowles, MMS, PA-C, is an emergency medicine physician assistant in the Philadelphia area.

References

  1. Becker RA. For a Healthy Heart, You May Have to Eat More Cheese. NOVA Next. 28 April 2015. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/for-a-healthy-heart-you-may-have-to-eat-more-cheese/.
  2. Zheng H et al. J Agric Food Chem. 2015; doi:63(19):2830-9.
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