Researchers Awarded Grant for Multi-Disciplinary Research About the Effects of Dairy Fats


The Effects of Dairy Fat on Postprandial Inflammation grant is part of the FFHI’s Metabolic Phenotype Program and offers opportunities to jointly delve into deeper questions on previous, separate studies and explore new directions for research. Upon reviewing the FFHI team’s proposal, the Dairy Research Institute was so impressed and excited about the study that they asked the researchers to expand the grant’s scope and significantly increased the funding.

This multi-disciplinary grant is a culmination of different lines of research represented by the range of research interests of the grant’s co-principal investigators (PIs) including nutritional biologists Dr. Angela Zivkovic and Dr. Jennifer Smilowitz; lipid biochemist Dr. Bruce German; analytic chemist Dr. Bruce Hammock; and research physiologist Dr. Marta Van Loan, who will bring expertise in bone health and development.

The grant research addresses questions about the role of consumed saturated fat in inflammation. Importantly, this study will measure the effects of inflammation from fats in dairy products in the postprandial period – or just after eating a meal. Dr. Zivkovic points out that the bulk of previous research has measured markers of health in subjects who are in a fasting state, and notes that these studies miss what is happening when the subject is actually eating and metabolizing food. What happens acutely after eating a meal has a big effect on what happens in the long-term.

Dr. Smilowitz notes the study will explore how both fat composition and structure influence postprandial inflammation. She explains that "the complex lipids and proteins that surround the fat droplets in milk have been shown to lower indices of inflammation in animals and cells. What makes this study so novel is that we are comparing the effect of two saturated fat meals - palm and dairy - with and without the inclusion of the complex lipids and proteins that surround the fat droplets in milk."

Dr. Zivkovic explains that the saturated fatty acids and lipids in dairy products are associated with increased LDL “bad” cholesterol, but that they also contribute to an increase in HDL “good” cholesterol. The study will explore more deeply the effects of saturated fat in dairy versus palm oil, a plant-derived source of saturated fat, and the effects of dairy fat as part of foods on markers of inflammation. The study will also examine the specific effects of dairy fat on HDL structure and function, as well as markers of bone turnover. Inflammation is a critical measurement in this study because research has shown that it is the underlying cause behind many chronic diseases including type-two diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, kidney disease, and even bone loss. 

It is not just about the fatty acid composition (saturated or unsaturated fats), but how those saturated fatty acids are delivered and in what proportion to other foods that affect how deleterious those fats are to the body. In the postprandial state these lipids (fats) are metabolized in a specific way and you may be at an increased risk for heart disease depending on how well you metabolize those lipids and if you experience postprandial inflammation.

This research will examine novel markers like oxylipins (lipid signaling mediators that are effectors of inflammation) in a nutritional framework for the benefit of an at-risk clinical population (people with metabolic syndrome). Researchers are also bringing questions about bone health and HDL metabolism and function. Out of the same set of samples, this multi-disciplinary group will be able to examine three separate but equally important questions about how postprandial fats affect overall health.

Another unique aspect of the grant is that this cross-over study will allow the opportunity for increased personalization in that each subject is tested multiple times in response to different meals at different occasions. This means that researchers can compare one subject against his/herself, rather than other subjects, offering a more powerful way to look at responsiveness to diet. The two-year grant operates with a complex study design to provide comprehensive results that can contribute to health solutions for people with metabolic syndrome.

FFHI researchers are currently recruiting volunteers for this exciting research. If you have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and are interested in taking part in this study, please contact study coordinator Nancy Rivera at [email protected] to find out if you qualify.