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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cheese consumption, visceral fat, and adiponectin levels

Several bacteria feed on lactose, the sugar found in milk, producing cheese for us as a byproduct of their feeding. This is why traditionally made cheese can be eaten by those who are lactose intolerant. Cheese consumption predates written history. This of course does not refer to processed cheese, frequently sold under the name “American cheese”. Technically speaking, processed cheese is not “real” cheese.

One reasonably reliable way of differentiating between traditional and processed cheese varieties is to look for holes. Cheese-making bacteria produce a gas, carbon dioxide, which leaves holes in cheese. There are exceptions though, and sometimes the holes are very small, giving the impression of no holes. Another good way is to look at the label and the price; usually processed cheese is labeled as such, and is cheaper than traditionally made cheese.

Cheese does not normally spoil; it ages. When vacuum-wrapped, cheese is essentially in “suspended animation”. After opening it, it is a good idea to store it in such a way as to allow it to “breathe”, or continue aging. Wax paper does a fine job at that. This property, extended aging, has made cheese a very useful source of nutrition for travelers in ancient times. It was reportedly consumed in large quantities by Roman soldiers.

Walther and colleagues (2008) provide a good review of the role of cheese in nutrition and health. The full reference is at the end of this post. They point out empirical evidence that cheese, particularly that produced with Lactobacillus helveticus (e.g., Gouda and Swiss cheese), contributes to lowering blood pressure, stimulates growth and development of lean body tissues (e.g., muscle), and has anti-carcinogenic properties.

The health-promoting effects of cheese were also reviewed by Higurashi and colleagues (2007), who hypothesized that those effects may be in part due to the intermediate positive effects of cheese on adiponectin and visceral body fat levels. They conducted a study with rats that supports those hypotheses.

In the study, they fed two groups of rats an isocaloric diet with 20 percent of fat, 20 percent of protein, and 60 percent of carbohydrate (in the form of sucrose). In one group, the treatment group, Gouda cheese (produced with Lactobacillus helveticus) was the main source of protein. In the other group, the control group, isolated casein was the main source of protein. The researchers were careful to avoid confounding variables; e.g., they adjusted the vitamin and mineral intake in the groups so as to match them.

The table below (click to enlarge) shows initial and final body weight, liver weight, and abdominal fat for both groups of rats. As you can see, the rats more than quadrupled in weight by the end of the 8-weight experiment! Abdominal fat was lower in the cheese group; one type of visceral fat, mesenteric, was significantly lower. Whole body weight-adjusted liver weight was higher in the cheese group. Liver weight increase is often associated with increased muscle mass. The rats in the cheese group were a little heavier on average, even though they had less abdominal fat.

The figure below shows adiponectin levels at the 4-week and 8-week marks. While adiponectin levels decreased in both groups, which was to be expected given the massive gain in weight (and probably body fat mass), only in the casein group the decrease in adiponectin was significant. In fact, the relatively small decrease in the cheese group is a bit surprising given the increase in weight observed.

If we could extrapolate these findings to humans, and this is a big “if”, one could argue that cheese has some significant health-promoting effects. There is one small problem with this study though. To ensure that the rats consumed the same number of calories, the rats in the casein group were fed slightly more sucrose. The difference was very small though; arguably not enough to explain the final outcomes.

This study is interesting because the main protein in cheese is actually casein, and also because casein powders are often favored by those wanting to put on muscle as part of a weight training program. This study suggests that the cheese-ripening process induced by Lactobacillus helveticus may yield compounds that are particularly health-promoting in three main ways – maintaining adiponectin levels; possibly increasing muscle mass; and reducing visceral fat gain, even in the presence of significant weight gain. In humans, reduced circulating adiponectin and increased visceral fat are strongly associated with the metabolic syndrome.

One caveat: if you think that eating cheese may help wipe out that stubborn abdominal fat, think again. This is a topic for another post. But, briefly, this study suggests that cheese consumption may help reduce visceral fat. Visceral fat, however, is generally fairly easy to mobilize (i.e., burn); much easier than the stubborn subcutaneous body fat that accumulates in the lower abdomen of middle-aged men and women. In middle-aged women, stubborn subcutaneous fat also accumulates in the hips and thighs.

Could eating Gouda cheese, together with other interventions (e.g., exercise), become a new weapon against the metabolic syndrome?


Higurashi, S., Kunieda, Y., Matsuyama, H., & Kawakami, H. (2007). Effect of cheese consumption on the accumulation of abdominal adipose and decrease in serum adiponectin levels in rats fed a calorie dense diet. International Dairy Journal, 17(10), 1224–1231.

Walther, B., Schmid, A., Sieber, R., & Wehrmüller, K. (2008). Cheese in nutrition and health. Dairy Science Technology, 88(4), 389-405.


Jamie Scott said...


This paper also shows favourable benefits from consuming cheese by way of a cancer risk reduction and vitamin K intake:




Ned Kock said...

Thanks Jamie.

One interesting thing about the study by Higurashi and colleagues (2007) is that they controlled for differences in vitamin intake. That is, they added vitamins to the food taken by casein group so as to make it compatible with that of the cheese group.

And, still, the cheese group did a lot better in terms of levels of adiponectin and visceral fat.

Jack C said...


During cheese fermentation process the vitamin K2 (menaquinone) content of cheese is increased more than ten-fold. Vitamin K2 is anti-carcinogenic, reduces calcification of soft tissue (like arteries) and reduces bone fracture risk. So vitamin K2 in aged cheese provides major health benefits that are not present in the control nutrients.

Another apparent benefit of aged cheese is the breakdown of the peptide BCM7 (beta-casomorphin 7) which is present in the casein milk of most cows (a1 milk)in the U. S. BCM7 is a powerful oxidant and is highly atherogenic. (From "Devil in the Milk" by Keith Woodford.)

Ned Kock said...

Thanks Jack!

You should have been a co-author of the article. In the discussion section, Higurashi et al. (2007) seemed mystified by the results:

"... various factors, such as the starter lactic acid bacteria, and the peptide and fat components formed during the process of ripening of the cheese may exert
complex activities to give rise to the phenomenon described in this study."

Jack C said...

Ned, one more very important factor regarding aged cheese is that pasteurization is not necessary, for during the aging process, the production of lactic acid results in a drop in pH which destroys pathogenic bacteria but does not harm beneficial bacteria! Many benefits result.

In making aged cheese, the temperature can be kept to no more than 102 degrees F, the same temperature that the milk comes out of the cow. The many beneficial enzymes in milk (8 actually) therefore are not harmed and provide many health benefits. Lactoferrin, for example, destroys pathogenic bacteria by binding to iron (most pathogenic bacteria are iron loving) and also helps in absorption of iron. Lipase helps break down fats and reduces the load on the pancreas which produces lipase.

By federal law, milk that has not been pasteurized can not be shipped across state lines, but raw milk cheese can be legally shipped provided that it has been aged at least sixty days. Thus, in backward states like Alabama where I live that do not permit the sale of raw milk, you can get the same beneficial enzymes (well, almost) from aged cheese as from raw milk. And as you pointed out, cheese that is shrink wrapped will keep a long time and can be easily shipped.

I buy most of my raw milk cheese from a small dairy in Elberta, Alabama, Sweet Home Farm, which produces a great variety of organic raw milk cheese from Guernsey cows that are fed nothing but grass. No grain, no antibiotics or growth hormones. There is nothing comparable in the way of milk that is available legally. The so called "organic milk sold in stores is all ultra-pasteurized. Yuck.

Raw milk cheese is readily shipped. Sweet Home Farm does not ship cheese, so I have to go get it, 70 miles round trip. On occasion I buy raw milk cheese from Next Generation Dairy, a small coop in Minn. which promises that they do not raise the temperature of the cheese to more than 102 degrees F during manufacture. The cheese is modestly priced and can be shipped inexpensively.


Ned Kock said...

Thanks Jack. I found Next Generation Dairy site here:


Looks good!

lightcan said...

Hi Ned,
so raw aged cheeses have many beneficial effects on our body. Not only the fat is good, there is CLA in summer, K2, even BCM 7 is broken down, the good enzymes from milk are not destroyed. If one can find (not me yet) unpasteurised organic (antibiotic free) aged cheese the only problem I can see is the insulin growth factor and the other hormones from the cow's milk. So the next best thing is raw aged sheep's cheese?

Ned Kock said...

Grass-fed cows not treated with hormones are supposed to yield more natural milk, but there are always elevated levels of certain hormones in the body of a lactating animal. I don't know the effect that cheese aging has on hormones though.

Jack C said...


You can find many sources of raw milk cheese from pasture fed cows that get no antibiotics or growth hormones from the website:


which is an offshoot of the Weston Price Foundation.

I don't think that insulin growth factor (IGF-1) is much of a problem. There are some studies that indicate that IGF-1 increases prostate cancer risk somewhat, but then there is an offsetting study that found that those with the greatest intake of vitamin K2, mainly from cheese, have a greatly reduced risk of serious prostate cancer. (pubmed 18400723)

Goat milk is good in that it is A2 milk and therefore has no problem with the BCM7 peptide. I get organic goat milk, pasteurized, from a local dairy, Henrietta's Goat Milk.

lightcan said...

Thanks Jack,
I live in Dublin, Ireland.
I eat Gruyere, Emmental, Comte, all unpasteurised aged cheeses from Switzerland and France, but they're not organic and I just suppose they're grass-fed, except maybe during the winter, because I make a point of getting AOC, which translates as "controlled designation of origin" and that are supposed to be of better quality.
I also eat goats and unpasteurised sheep's cheese (Ossau-Iraty or Pecorino). You can see I like cheese.;)
Hormones in milk might be a problem for me as I have adult acne that started around the age of 30 which might point to certain hormonal problems. I couldn't get to the bottom of it and although I am on a low carb diet for almost 2 years nothing much changed. I'm still trying to get rid of it.

Ned, are you going to write about stubborn subcutaneous fat?

Ned Kock said...

Hi lightcan.

For the acne, I suggest you try to eliminate or vary the amount of foods, one by one and on a weekly basis. This way you will eventually find what is causing it. The biggest culprit of all usually are refined carbs and sugars, but there are others: milk and nuts, for example. Taking yogurt often helps.

Writing about the stubborn subcutaneous fat is one of my short-term projects. This fat is definitely stubborn, and getting rid of it is usually something that only people who have reached the "fit" level have the privilege of worrying about.

Some of the literature I've been reading suggests that cortisol may be an ally in this respect. Intermittent fasting increases cortisol levels somewhat. Cortisol shifts subcutaneous ab fat to visceral areas. Visceral fat is, in turn, easily burned with exercise that leads to significant glycogen depletion. The problem is to find the right combination of IF, exercise, and nutrition to achieve this.

Too much cortisol, and you start losing muscle, and having other problems. Cortisol stimulates gluconeogenesis. So, if you don't do things right, you are right back where you started.

Trying to burn the subcutaneous fat directly is a losing proposition, because the area is poorly vascularized.

lightcan said...

Thanks Ned,

I'm trying to lose the last 10 pounds after I plateaued for the last 6 months. I put my food into Fitday and I noticed I only eat about 1400 kcal, which combined with low carb, no sugar, veg oil, no grains, under 50, should mean fatloss, but no, it's not budging, I even put on about 1 kg of weight recently. I'm doing IF too, I only have 2 meals a day. I have started recently to do resistance training targetting the leg, arms, shoulders, obliques, etc in the hope that it helps but more muscle means more weight.
Thanks again.
Re cortisol, it might be that I have problems with my adrenals, dr. BG recommended that I eat 3 meals so I don't really know.
Nuts, I only eat macadamias, milk, I don't drink any, I have greek yogurt sometimes and try to vary the types as they have different probiotic cultures.
It seems I have to go even lower in carbs. I'm going to try a carb day followed by fast too.

buy viagra said...

why you attack cheese ?it has a loyt of benefits if you consume it with moderation as any other product ?

melvin spinoza said...

anyone saying cheese is good shows how totally stupid they are.Cheese speeds up the causes of ill health and death by clogging the system's cells and causing strokes and other ill effects.

jpatti said...

Lightcan, depends what you mean by veg oil. Coconut and palm are unqualified good. Olive and avocado also. Small amounts of nut and seed oils are OK, but not exactly good. Canola and soy and corn oils are pretty much poison.

Most vegetable oils are very high in omega 6s though and thus pretty bad.

Cheese is good stuff, but IMO, not as good as butter. Especially butter from pastured animals, which has lots of CLA and butyric acid.

Even more especially when growing on fast-growing grass, when there's lot of carotenes in the fat. This is also when there's the highest amounts of vitamins A, D3 and K2.

IMO, butter is pretty much the ultimate health food. When the butter from my local dairy gets dark from the carotenes, I buy 40 lbs and freeze it.

I do raw milk, as I live in PA where it is legal, but no other raw dairy products are legal here, so the butter is made from pasteurized cream. Luckily, the primary nutrients available in butter are heat-stable.

IMO, raw milk is more for enzymes, probiotics and glutathione, which are not heat-stable. Also, for "whatever-it-is" in there that lowers bp better than Lisnopril and beta blockers.

But the nutrients in butter have such huge effects on gut health, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, etc. Pretty much... everyone should eat gobs of butter.