Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pastured Dairy may Prevent Heart Attacks

Not all dairy is created equal. Dairy from grain-fed and pasture-fed cows differs in a number of ways. Pastured dairy contains more fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin K2, vitamin A, vitamin E, carotenes and omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains more conjugated linoleic acid, a fat-soluble molecule that has been under intense study due to its ability to inhibit obesity and cancer in animals. The findings in human supplementation trials have been mixed, some confirming the animal studies and others not. In feeding experiments in cows, Dr. T. R. Dhiman and colleagues found the following (1):
Cows grazing pasture and receiving no supplemental feed had 500% more conjugated linoleic acid in milk fat than cows fed typical dairy diets.
Fat from ruminants such as cows, sheep and goats is the main source of CLA in the human diet. CLA is fat-soluble. Therefore, skim milk doesn't contain any. It's also present in human body fat in proportion to dietary intake. This can come from dairy or flesh.

In a recent article from the AJCN, Dr. Liesbeth Smit and colleagues examined the level of CLA in the body fat of Costa Rican adults who had suffered a heart attack, and compared it to another group who had not (a case-control study, for the aficionados). People with the highest level of CLA in their body fat were 49% less likely to have had a heart attack, compared to those with the lowest level (2).

Since dairy was the main source of CLA in this population, the association between CLA and heart attack risk is inextricable from the other components in pastured dairy fat. In other words, CLA is simply a marker of pastured dairy fat intake in this population, and the (possible) benefit could just as easily have come from vitamin K2 or something else in the fat.

This study isn't the first one to suggest that pastured dairy fat may be uniquely protective. The Rotterdam and EPIC studies found that a higher vitamin K2 intake is associated with a lower risk of heart attack, cancer and overall mortality (3, 4, 5). In the 1940s, Dr. Weston Price estimated that pastured dairy contains up to 50 times more vitamin K2 than grain-fed dairy. He summarized his findings in the classic book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. This finding has not been repeated in recent times, but I have a little hunch that may change soon...

Vitamin K2
Cardiovascular Disease and Vitamin K2
Can Vitamin K2 Reverse Arterial Calcification?

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