Have another helping of whipped cream: Dairy fat may protect against diabetes

October 16, 2018

How sweet it is! As the holidays approach, most of know we will take guilty joy in having a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream with our portion of pie. But maybe it’s time to cut back—on the contrition, Medscape reports.

In a recent epidemiologic study, researchers found that adults with higher blood and fat tissue levels of three fatty acids—which correlate with intake of high-fat dairy foods—were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

The study, led by Fumiaki Imamura, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, was published online on October 10 in the journal, PLOS Medicine.

Dr. Imamura and his co-authors analyzed data from 16 pooled international cohorts with more than 60,000 people from the Fatty Acids and Outcomes Research Consortium (FORCE) project, based at Tufts University in Massachusets.

At the beginning of the study, the participants had baseline measurements of three fatty acids—pentadecanoic acid, heptadecanoic acid. and trans-palmitoleic acid—that reflected consumption of fat from dairy products such as milk and cheese.

During up to 20 years of follow-up, 23.8% of the participants developed type 2 diabetes. The people with the highest levels of all three fatty acids (highest quintile) had a 35% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes during follow-up than people in the lowest quintile. 

“Our results provide the most comprehensive global evidence to date about dairy fat biomarkers and their relationship with lower risk of type 2 diabetes,” Imamura said in a statement by the UK Medical Research Council.

“We’re aware that our biomarker work has limitations and requires further research on underlying mechanisms,” he conceded, “but at the very least, the available evidence about dairy fat does not indicate any increased risk for the development of type 2 diabetes.”

Senior author Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Tufts University, added: “While dairy foods are recommended as part of a healthy diet, U.S. and international guidelines generally recommend low-fat or non-fat dairy, due to concerns about adverse effects of higher calories or saturated fat.” However, he said, these latest results “suggest a need to re-examine the potential metabolic benefits of dairy fat or foods rich in dairy fat, such as cheese.”

What do these findings mean for clinicians and patients?Medscape Medical News asked Robert H. Eckel, M.D., of the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes, and Cardiology, and Director of the Lipid Clinic, at the University of ColoradoAurora.

Should people switch to high-fat instead of low-fat dairy and eat more dairy?

“Epidemiology is epidemiology,” he stressed in an email. “No changes in a heart-diabetes-cancer-healthy lifestyle are recommended until more science affirms this relationship” between high-fat dairy foods and lower risk of type 2 diabetes.”

According to Eckel, “It’s not ‘good foods’ or ‘bad foods’, it’s the overall diet.”

Nevertheless, the study’s “novel findings,” Imamura and colleagues conclude, “support the need for additional clinical and molecular research to elucidate the potential effects of these fatty acids on glucose-insulin metabolism, and the potential role of selected dairy products for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.”

Research contact:  fumiaki.imamura@mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk

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