If you eat yogurt, you’re less likely than others to develop a raft of health problems including type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and even heart disease. But does yogurt consumption actually protect us against these life-threatening conditions?
The chances are that if you’re a yogurt-eater, you also lead a lifestyle that’s generally good for your health, research shows. So it’s possible that these health benefits are seen simply because yogurt consumption is part of a package of healthy living. However, the authors of this study suspect it’s not so straight-forward. They believe there may be something unique about yogurt and other fermented milk products that explains the health benefits associated with them.
In particular, studies show that eating yogurt is strongly and consistently associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, although we don’t know exactly how. Unlocking these secrets could provide evidence to make new recommendations for fermented dairy products in dietary guidelines to prevent disease, say the authors.
Microbes in yogurt could be the key to health benefits
The key to the explanation may lie in the trillions of bacteria that shelter in our gut. Changes in this gut microbiota are linked to obesity and to a variety of diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer, depression, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. Gut-friendly bacteria in yogurt help to keep your gut healthy, generally by contributing to a good balance of gut microbiota.
Bacteria in yogurt have other effects too. Inflammation is believed to be involved in the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. During the fermentation process used to make yogurt, lactic acid bacteria (LAB) produce lactate, which appears to have anti-inflammatory effects.
Using diet to promote microbes that can prevent or control inflammatory-mediated cardiometabolic diseases presents a promising case for diet-based interventions. – Fernandez & Marette, 2018.
Fermentation may produce health-promoting molecules
Fermentation with LAB produces a cocktail of other bioactive molecules which appear to have health benefits:
- Recent studies have shown that eating yogurt could lower the risks of high blood pressure and heart disease. Bioactive peptides formed during the fermentation process and during digestion of milk proteins may have blood-pressure-lowering properties and could help to prevent heart disease.
- Bioactive peptides may regulate genes involved in glucose uptake and insulin secretion and so may have anti-diabetic activity. They may also regulate genes involved in inflammation and in maintaining a healthy intestine.
- Milk contains a bioactive fatty acid – conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – and LAB fermentation increases the amount of CLA present in yogurt. This may turn out to be useful in prevention of obesity and type 2 diabetes, say the authors.
- Complex sugars called exopolysaccharides, produced by LAB, may regulate the immune response. They also help to make yogurt thick, and this viscous food matrix protects live bacteria in yogurt as they pass through the gut.
The peptides released through fermentation may explain some of the health effects of fermented dairy products on cardiometabolic disease risk observed in epidemiological studies, particularly type 2 diabetes… – Fernandez & Marette, 2018.
The authors point out that there appear to be differences between men and women in the potential effects of yogurt on health and disease. Research into sex differences, effects on specific populations (e.g children and adolescents, and pregnant women), and further research on the mechanisms behind the apparent health benefits of yogurt are needed before yogurt can be officially recommended for prevention of type 2 diabetes, say the authors.