Do you remember those Dannon commercials where they showed really old people who ate mostly yogurt? While yogurt became a health food of the ’60s, it was in the ’70s that scientists began to uncover its health benefits. This morning I’d like to review a study (after you watch the 1970s TV ad below) that seems to show even more things to like about yogurt.
Chronic Inflammation: the Slow Killer
Inflammation comes in two main forms: acute and chronic. The acute kind helps heal, while the chronic kind slowly kills. Acute inflammation happens after an injury when your immune system jumps into action to fix the problem. Except in very rare instances (e.g., a condition called compartment syndrome), we don’t want to stifle this kind of healing inflammation as it’s our body doing what it is made to do in the face of an injury: self-heal.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is much more ominous and sneaky. It builds up slowly, over many years as we age. It seems to be more common when our diets are filled with high-carb, high-sugar, pro-inflammatory foods; when we don’t exercise; and when we gain weight and subsequently develop metabolic syndrome (i.e., obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and so on). Studies have found that this type of inflammation is associated with all kinds of diseases, everything from cardiovascular disease to diabetes and even to cancers that thrive off those high-sugar diets.
Keeping chronic inflammation at bay is one major step you can take to being proactive about your health as you age. Reducing endotoxins in the bloodstream can also help by lowering your risk of disease. So what are endotoxins?
Lipopolysaccharides make up the major portion of outer cell membranes of gram-negative bacteria and are typically released into the bloodstream when the microorganism dies. Lipopolysaccharides are called endotoxins because they contain a component that causes a toxic reaction. Our immune system is constantly attacking and killing off foreign invaders, such as bacteria, so endotoxin release is a natural process; however, high levels of endotoxins in the blood can lead to metabolic endotoxemia, a condition associated not just with chronic inflammation and obesity but also with diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and liver disease.
It’s also worth mentioning that physicians who prescribe antibiotics for a bacterial infection will often recommend eating plenty of yogurt or supplementing with probiotics to repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria. This is because antibiotics, if you absolutely must take them, will wipe out not only the bad gut bacteria but also the good. It seems another good purpose for consuming yogurt with antibiotics may be to reduce the amount of endotoxins released into the blood when antibiotics kill off those gram-negative bacteria.
Chronic Inflammation and Endotoxins Reduced with Yogurt Consumption?
The purpose of the new study was to investigate what impact yogurt had specifically on chronic inflammation and endotoxin exposure. One group of women consumed 339 grams (about two 6-oz. containers) of yogurt per day for nine weeks, while a second group (the control group) consumed nondairy soy pudding. Both groups consisted of obese and nonobese women.
The results? The blood was analyzed, and in the yogurt groups, both in the obese and nonobese women, biomarkers for chronic inflammation and endotoxins were reduced when compared to the control group. An interesting additional finding was that while the obese women in the yogurt group had a slightly lowered diastolic blood pressure, many also gained weight (between 0 and nearly 20 pounds [0–9kg]) after consuming low-fat yogurt for nine weeks.
Other studies have supported the health benefits of eating yogurt. A Harvard study showed decreases in type 2 diabetes. Another study showed reduced heart disease risk. However, one of the more interesting controversies is over whether the centenarians of the former Soviet Union eat yogurt at all!
The Leaf Study vs. the New York Times
The genesis of the Dannon commercial was based on a study by a Harvard scientist, Alexander Leaf. He actually traveled all over the world and for two years lived in three communities where people over the age of 100 were common. One of those places was Soviet Georgia in the Caucus mountains where a 1970 census had recorded more than 5,000 centenarians. His study found that the centenarians consumed a lean and healthy diet that included healthy servings of locally produced yogurt. However, the New York Times visited the same area in the late ’90s and found that the residents actually didn’t eat much yogurt. It was also later discovered that the extreme age (140+) being claimed by some of the people he studied wasn’t accurate. However, even if some of the claimed very old were in their late 90s, they were still working outdoors doing things that the average 70-something in America can’t muster.
So who to believe? It’s certainly conceivable that the amount of modern societal contamination was quite different in the early ’70s versus the late ’90s. Meaning, who the heck wants to eat locally produced yogurt when you can get processed food that tastes better? In addition, the story gets more eyeballs if you find locals who don’t each much yogurt. Hence, I’ll go with the Harvard scientist who lived there for almost a year.
The upshot? I know I’ll start mixing some yogurt back into my diet. Will I live to be more than 100? Not sure my genes are up for such a feat. However, if I do, instead of approaching 3,000 blog posts in 2018, hopefully, I’m at 100,000 by 2063!