Consuming cheese may prevent high blood pressure, say scientists who have found that eating sodium in the form of a dairy product may protect against its harmful effects on the cardiovascular system. This protection comes from antioxidant properties of dairy proteins in cheese, researchers said.
“This is a novel finding that may have implications for dietary recommendations. Newer dietary recommendations suggest limiting sodium, but our data suggests that eating sodium in the form of a dairy product, such as cheese, may be protective,” said Lacy Alexander, associate professor at Pennsylvania State University in the US.
“We are already aware that at the population level, people who eat more dairy typically have lower blood pressure,” Alexander said.
The data suggests that when sodium is consumed in cheese it does not have the negative vascular effects that researchers observed with sodium from non-dairy sources.
The researchers interpret this to mean that the proteins and nutrients in cheese may be protecting the blood vessels from the short-term negative effects of sodium.
However, it is not known if this protection extends over the long term.
For the study, researchers fed participants dairy cheese, pretzels or soy cheese on five separate occasions, three days apart.
They then compared the effects of each food on the cardiovascular system using a laser-Doppler, which shines a weak laser light onto the skin.
The laser light reflects off red blood cells that flow through the vessels just under the skin, allowing researchers to measure how much the blood vessels dilate in response to skin warming and how much of that dilation is due to the production of nitric oxide, a gas that’s naturally produced in the body to deliver messages between cells.
The goal was to compare the effect of short-term dairy cheese consumption to sodium consumption from non-dairy sources.
Soy served as an additional control to match the fat, salt and protein content from a dietary source that is not dairy-based.
“We found that when our subjects ate a lot of sodium in cheese, they had better blood vessel function – more blood flow – compared to when they ate an equal amount of sodium from non-dairy sources – in this case, pretzels and soy cheese,” said Anna Stanhewicz, postdoctoral fellow at Penn State.
“We know that more red blood cells means more blood flow and more dilation. We observed that subjects had more nitric oxide-moderated dilation after eating dairy cheese, compared to after eating pretzels or soy cheese,” said Stanhewicz.
The study appears in the British Journal of Nutrition.