A natural fatty acid found in whole-fat dairy products may lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, U.S. scientists have found.
Studies on populations show that diets rich in dairy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt and butter are linked to lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. Animal studies also suggest naturally occurring palmitoleic acid helps protect against insulin resistance and diabetes.
The reasons for the effect are unknown. To find out more about the fatty acid and its potential health benefits, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed data from more than 3,736 American seniors who have been followed for 20 years as part of a study on risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
Unlike industrially produced trans fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which have been linked to higher risk of heart disease, trans-palmitoleic acid is found mainly in naturally-occurring dairy and meat. Previous studies have not linked this type of trans fat to higher risk of heart disease.
In the study, participants who said they consumed more whole-fat dairy products had higher levels of trans-palmitoleate in their blood three years later, the study's lead investigator, Dariush Mozaffarian, an epidemiology professor at Harvard and his co-authors report in the December issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
People with the highest levels of the fatty acid circulating in their blood had about two-thirds the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than those with the lowest levels, the researchers found.