May 15 (UPI) -- Consuming yogurt may help reduce chronic inflammation, which is a factor in bowel and cardiovascular disease, arthritis, asthma and obesity, according to a new study conducted in Wisconsin, known as the dairy capital of the United States.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison studied the effects of yogurt on chronic inflammation, which is when the body attacks itself and affects organs and systems. Their findings were published Monday in the Journal of Nutrition.
"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," Ruisong Pei, a UW-Madison food science postdoctoral researcher involved in the studies, said in a press release.
As part of the innate immune system, inflammation helps protect the body from illness and injury. But a long inflammatory response can be harmful.
Anti-inflammatory medications -- including aspirin, naproxen, hydrocortisone and prednisone -- reduce the effects of chronic inflammation by improving the intestinal lining. It prevents endotoxins, which are pro-inflammatory molecules made by gut microbes, from entering the blood stream.
But the drugs have risks and side effects.
For two decades, researchers previously explored dairy products as a potential dietary treatment.
"There have been some mixed results over the years, but [a recent article] shows that things are pointing more toward anti-inflammatory, particularly for fermented dairy," said Brad Bolling, an assistant professor of food science at the school. He cited a 2017 review paper that assessed 52 clinical trials.
"I wanted to look at the mechanism more closely and look specifically at yogurt," Bolling said.
Bolling and his researchers enrolled 120 premenopausal women, 50 percent of whom were obese and the other 50 percent non-obese. For nine weeks, half of the participants were assigned to eat 12 ounces of low-fat yogurt every day and a control group ate non-dairy pudding.
During the study, blood samples were studied.
"The results indicate that ongoing consumption of yogurt may be having a general anti-inflammatory effect," Bolling said.
Those results were previously published last year in the British Journal of Nutrition.
In new research, participants were also involved in a high-calorie meal challenge at the beginning and end of their nine-week dietary intervention. They started with yogurt or non-dairy pudding followed by a large high-fat, high-carb breakfast meal.
"It was two sausage muffins and two hash browns, for a total of 900 calories. But everybody managed it. They'd been fasting, and they were pretty hungry," Bolling said.
In both challenges, blood work showed that the yogurt "appetizer" helped improve some key biomarkers of endotoxin exposure and inflammation. Also glucose metabolism improved in obese participants in speeding the reduction of post-meal blood glucose levels.
Researchers couldn't find compounds in yogurt responsible for the shift in biomarkers or how they act in the body.
"The goal is to identify the components and then get human evidence to support their mechanism of action in the body. That's the direction we are going," Bolling said. "Ultimately, we would like to see these components optimized in foods, particularly for medical situations where it's important to inhibit inflammation through the diet. We think this is a promising approach."