While inflammation is an important part of the body’s response to injury or illness, chronic inflammation has been implicated as a common factor in many diseases. A recent study funded by the National Dairy Council (a non-profit organization supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), has suggested that yogurt intake may help strengthen the integrity of the lining of the intestine, and by extension, reduces inflammation. When that lining is damaged, pro-inflammatory molecules can cross into the bloodstream.
There has been considerable debate about whether yogurt might be a viable treatment option for people that suffer from diseases that are caused by the body’s response to endotoxins. They are the pro-inflammatory molecules made by microorganisms in the gut; endotoxins can cross through the gut's lining when it is weakened, which causes heightened inflammation. For now, therapeutics like naproxen or hydrocortisone that treat the resulting problems come with risks.
Brad Bolling, University of Wisconsin–Madison Assistant Professor of Food Science, wanted to know more about whether dietary changes would help. “I wanted to look at the mechanism more closely and look specifically at yogurt. There have been some mixed results over the years, but [recent work] shows that things are pointing more toward anti-inflammatory, particularly for fermented dairy,” said Bolling, citing a 2017 paper that reviewed 52 clinical trials.
Bolling’s work indicated that regular consumption of yogurt could have an anti-inflammatory effect. Reported in the British Journal of Nutrition, it concluded that women who ate yogurt had better levels of biomarkers that are indicative of chronic inflammation.
Another study by UW-Madison researchers that was reported in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating some yogurt before a meal could improve metabolism. After a period of fasting, two groups ate a big breakfast following either yogurt or pudding. Those that had the yogurt were found to have improved levels of biomarkers that indicate inflammation or endotoxin exposure.
“Eating eight ounces of low-fat yogurt before a meal is a feasible strategy to improve post-meal metabolism and thus may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases,” explained Ruisong Pei, a UW–Madison food science postdoctoral researcher involved in the studies.
Investigators have to continue their research to find the chemical compounds and confirm the physiological mechanisms that are ultimately responsible for these effects.