Dairy Ingredient Could Help Prevent Diabetes

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Researchers have found a natural substance in dairy foods that may slash your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. That substance is called “trans-palmitoleic acid” and it’s a fatty acid found in milk, cheese, butter and yogurt. It is not made in the human body, thus dairy is the one place to find it.

The news comes from Harvard University and is published in the “Annals of Internal Medicine.” It helps explain that trans-palmitoleic acid may be the reason why recent studies have found that diets rich in dairy foods are linked to lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Health experts generally advise reducing full-fat dairy products — but this runs a bit contrary, as trans-palmitoleic acid is found in dairy fat.

Researchers looked at 3,736 participants in a national study who have been followed for 20 years to evaluate risk factors for heart disease. But they also checked out risk factors such as blood sugar and insulin levels, which are acutely involved in diabetes.

At the start, higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid were linked with less blood cholesterol, less inflammation, and healthier insulin levels. Following up, they found further proof that levels of trans-palmitoleic acid led to a much lower risk of developing diabetes. It was about a 60% lower risk among people in the highest one-fifth of trans-palmitoleic acid levels.

The researchers call that number “striking.”

It is an almost three-fold difference in risk of developing diabetes among individuals with the highest blood levels of this fatty acid. This type of acid is nearly exclusive to naturally-occurring dairy and meat fats, which in prior studies have not been linked to higher heart disease risk.

This is the first time that trans-palmitoleic acid has been evaluated with respect to type 2 diabetes. Why it helps protect us from the disease is not known. Still, the researchers write: “This is an extremely strong protective effect, stronger than other things we know can be beneficial against diabetes.”

While they move forward with further research, know that dairy is not just brimming with calcium, but also with hidden agents that may combat diabetes.