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3 ways dairy fat makes you healthier

Stephen Weststeyn for Progressive Dairyman Published on 14 November 2017

The amount of positive information coming out about milkfat is very exciting. It turns out we knew very little about fat and how it positively affects our bodies. The amount of beneficial bioactive components in milkfat may lead us to someday be proclaiming that milkfat is definitely milk’s healthiest component.

New research is showing that milkfat actually can have a positive effect on many of the prevalent health diseases Americans are dealing with today, such as atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity and other metabolic diseases. Milkfat is also showing positive benefits in the areas of gut health, cognitive and mental development, immune system health and even proving to reduce cancer.

1. Fatty acids are anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal

It shouldn’t be surprising because milkfat is one of nature’s most complex forms of fat. Milkfat has approximately 400 different kinds of fats and fatty acids. A variety of notable fatty acids, including butyric, caproic, capric, caprylic, lauric, linolenic, conjugated linoleic (CLA), trans vaccenic (TVA) and oleic, are just some of the fatty acids that have all been shown to have positive health benefits. Many of the fatty acids in milkfat have been shown to possess antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and even anticancer properties that help to protect your gut from negative influences.

Candida albicans is a gut problem that many people suffer from. It is a chronic yeast overgrowth in your gut, causing a number of health problems. It generally happens when people eat too much sugar. Interestingly, capric and caprylic acid in milkfat have been shown to have antifungal properties that would help keep the fungus in check. Dr. Axe sells caprylic acid pills, but how many people know they just need to eat more butter?

When you consider the incidence of gut health problems in America, you can see that we need more of these types of compounds in our diet than ever before. Short-chain fatty acids like butyric acid (the fatty acid that butter is named for) have been shown to improve your gut lining and be therapeutic for irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

2. Smarter with milkfat globule membrane

The research is showing that it’s not just the fatty acids; the very membrane that encases the milkfat is even more interesting and equally important for good health. The milkfat globule membrane (MFGM) is composed of unique bioactive components like phospholipids and glycoproteins, and is a unique structure only found in milk.

One recent research study compared infant formula with MFGM and without. Infant formula is usually made with vegetable oils and not dairy fat. Unsurprisingly, the children growing up on the formula with the MFGM were more neurodevelopmentally advanced than the ones who grew up on regular infant formula.

A separate study found that piglets fed formula with MFGM were also more developed cognitively than piglets fed traditional formula without MFGM. The piglets that had more MFGM in their diet were more neurodevelopmentally advanced than piglets without the MFGM in their diet, with differences in gray and white matter concentrations in their brains. The piglets also had healthier guts, leading the researchers to point to a healthier gut as being critical to cognitive development. MFGM is being found to play a big role in the health of our brain and gut.

3. Anti-pathogenic potential of sphingolipids

Interestingly enough, a component of the MFGM called sphingolipids has been shown to be effective at protecting the gut from bacterial invasions. As an antibacterial agent, sphingolipids have been shown to increase resistance toward intestinal pathogens like E. coli, salmonella enteritidis, Campylobacter jejuni and Listeria monocytogenes. Children fed whole milk were five times less likely to develop gastrointestinal illness than those fed skim milk. Rats were found to have more resistance to colonization of these negative pathogens in their guts when they were fed more milkfat in their diet.

Sphingolipids have also been found to be important to cognitive development, being a fundamental component of the central nervous system and neuron components. Sphingolipids have been also shown to be beneficial in helping against heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol, have positive effects on metabolic syndrome, help with insulin resistance, be protective against UV radiation and even possess antiproliferative and preventive properties against cancer.

With people eating less dairy products, it is hard to blame milkfat for society’s health woes. In 1909, Americans consumed 14.3 pounds of butter per person per year; 2004 butter consumption was only at 3.7 pounds per person per year. If milkfat was bad for you, Americans should be healthier than ever before, but that has not been the case with skyrocketing incidence of heart disease, cancer and obesity.

It turns out the fatty acids in milkfat, the milkfat globule membrane, sphingolipids and an array of other bioactive components in milkfat do have a positive effect on our health and may be just the very thing our bodies need. It is good news: Dairy fat can do a body good.  end mark

Stephen Weststeyn is a California dairy farmer. Read his blog, Dairy Moos.

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