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The “ripened cheese” treatment for obesity and diabetes

    Written by: Daniela Barile, Ph.D. | Issue # 1 | 2012

    Brie cheese lovers everywhere have reason to rejoice. Researchers from the University Catholique de Louvain in Belgium found that eating ripened cheese decreased blood sugar levels and fat tissue in obese/diabetic mice [1]. The study conducted by Cani and colleagues comes at a crucial time for our public health. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 65 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the US, with nine million children and teens ages 6-19 already overweight. Type 2 diabetes, a condition usually associated with adults, has been described as a new epidemic in the American pediatric population, yet no specific treatments are available for pediatric patients with type 2 diabetes.

    Obesity and type 2 diabetes are both associated with insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that normally mobilizes glucose, a sugar that is a crucial source of energy for the body, into cells, thereby providing fuel for our cells. In patients suffering from obesity or type 2 diabetes, insulin works less efficiently. This means glucose remains in the bloodstream rather than being transported into cells. The body’s fuel is collecting outside of the cells rather than being utilized by them.

    Another disease associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. It affects as many as 30% of adult Americans and occurs in people who consume little or no alcohol. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is characterized by a marked accumulation of fat inside liver cells. This fat accumulation causes liver failure, similar to that observed in alcoholic cirrhosis. Unfortunately, there is no cure for fatty liver disease, and treatments are aimed only at reducing underlying risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia, a condition in which a high level of lipids (energy storing molecules) collect in the blood.

    For patients suffering from obesity, type 2 diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cheese may be part of the solution. Although in the past cheese and all dairy products containing milk fat have been incriminated as a source of unhealthy saturated fatty acids, recent studies challenge the notion that unsaturated fatty acids in dairy products are deleterious to one’s health. Epidemiological studies show that consumption of milk and other dairy products is actually associated with a reduced incidence of obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes [2-4].

    Among these studies is one recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry by a Belgian group from the University Catholique de Louvain. The research team, led by Dr. Cani, discovered that feeding obese and type 2 diabetic mice with cheese ripened for over a month significantly improved glucose tolerance, decreased lipid levels in the liver, and also decreased cell damage in the mice. The results of this study lead the researchers to believe the duration of cheese ripening is an important factor in the physiological impact of dairy product ingestion.

    During their month long study, Cani and colleagues compared the effects of feeding mice cheese ripened for 35 days, 15 days, or non-ripened control cheese. Only the cheese ripened for 35 days significantly reduced levels of glucose in the blood without changing insulin secretion.

    Now Cani and colleagues are working to understand the mechanisms behind their important findings. They speculate the interaction of different microbes in the ripened cheese may contribute to the beneficial effects observed. During the ripening process, interactions between specific bacterial communities lead to the final composition of fermented dairy products. Each microbial population produces metabolites and enzymes that break down cheese proteins into bioactive components. Cani’s group and others have demonstrated intestinal bacteria, including those ingested with the ripened cheeses used during the experiment, interact to control lipid levels in fat tissue and the liver.

    Scientists in this line of research hope to discover specific mechanisms that will help them decipher the complex interaction between dairy product fermentation and human health. The ultimate goal is to deliver successful therapeutic solutions for those living with type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other diet related conditions. Until then, enjoy your Camembert.


    1. Geurts L, Everard A, le Ruyet P, Delzenne NM, Cani PD. Ripened dairy products differentially affect hepatic lipid content and adipose tissue oxidative stress markers in obese and type 2 diabetic mice. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Feb 29;60(8):2063-8.
    2. Pereira, M. A.; Jacobs, D. R. Jr.; Van, H. L.; Slattery, M. L.; Kartashov, A. I.; Ludwig, D. S. Dairy consumption, obesity, and the insulin resistance syndrome in young adults: the CARDIA Study. J. Am. Med. Assoc.(16), 2081
    3. Choi, H. K.; Willett, W. C.; Stampfer, M. J.; Rimm, E.; Hu, F. B. Dairy consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus in men: a prospective study.Arch. Intern. Med. 2005 165(9), 997-1003.
    4. Fumeron, F.; Lamri, A.; Abi, K. C.; Jaziri, R.; Porchay-Balderelli, I.; Lantieri, O.; Vol, S.; Balkau, B.; Marre, M. Dairy consumption and the incidence of hyperglycemia and the metabolic syndrome: Results from a french prospective study, Data from the Epidemiological Study on the Insulin Resistance Syndrome (DESIR). Diabetes Care. 2011 34 (4), 813-817.