Research from Norway suggests a small daily portion of Jarlsberg, a type of Norwegian cheese, may help prevent bone thinning without increasing harmful cholesterol. Photo by Howcheng/Wikimedia Commons
Aug. 2 (UPI) -- By the latest count, each person in the United States devours 40.2 pounds of cheese annually -- and a new study suggests that eating only 2 ounces each day of a specific type may reap major health benefits.
In a scientific battle of the cheeses, Norwegian researchers said Tuesday that a small daily portion -- 57 grams, or roughly 2 ounces -- of Jarlsberg, which originated in Norway, may help prevent bone thinning from osteopenia and the more severe condition, osteoporosis, without increasing harmful cholesterol.
The scientists assert the beneficial effects seem specific to Jarlsberg, a mild, semi-soft, nutty cow's milk cheese.
In fact, the Norwegian scientists reported that Jarlsberg bested French Camembert to the point in which the group of Camembert eaters was switched to Jarlsberg six weeks into the study.
The findings were published in the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.
According to a news release, previous research has indicated that Jarlsberg may help boost levels of osteocalcin, a hormone associated with strong bones and teeth. But it's not clear if this effect is specific to Jarlsberg or can result from any other types of cheese.
To find the answer, the researchers recruited 66 healthy women, averaging 33 years old and a body mass index of 24. They were randomly assigned to add either a daily, 57-gram portion of Jarlsberg or 50 grams of Camembert cheese to their diet for six weeks.
While both cheeses have similar fat and protein contents, Jarlsberg, unlike Camembert, is rich in vitamin K2, also known as menaquinone, the researchers noted. And, while calcium and vitamin D are known to be important for bone health, there are other key factors at play, such as vitamin K2.
According to the study, several varieties of menaquinone exist, including one found in animal products such as liver. Other varieties originate from bacteria and occur in certain fermented foods, such as cheese. Jarlsberg is particularly rich in two varieties of vitamin K2.
The study's participants had their blood drawn every six weeks to check for key proteins, osteocalcin and a peptide known as PINP, which is involved in "bone turnover," or the process of new bone replacement.
The women's vitamin K2 and blood fat levels also were measured for the study.
Subsequently, the investigators' analysis of blood samples indicated the key biochemical markers of bone turnover, including osteocalcin, and vitamin K2 increased significantly after six weeks in the Jarlsberg group.
By contrast, levels of the peptide PINP remained unchanged in the Camembert group, and levels of the other biochemical markers fell slightly. So, at the end of the initial period, the group eating Camembert was switched to Jarlsberg for another six weeks -- and all of their levels increased significantly after making the switch.
Blood fats increased slightly in both groups after 6 weeks, the release said.. But levels of total cholesterol and harmful LDL cholesterol fell significantly in members of the Camembert group after they switched to Jarlsberg.
Moreover, the researchers noted that the level of glycated hemoglobin, also known as HbA1c or A1c, fell by 3%, in the Jarlsberg group, while the level rose by 2% in the group initially eating Camembert. A high level increases a person's risk of diabetic complications.
After switching to Jarlsberg, the former Camembert eaters' HbA1c level fell, too.
"Different methods of preparation mean there are key differences in the nutrient composition of cheese which has often been regarded as a homogenous food item in dietary research to date," Dr. Sumantra Ray, executive director of NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health, which co-owns the journal, said in the release.
He cautioned this is a small study of young, healthy individuals, "designed to explore novel pathways linking diet and bone health." So, he said, the results must be "interpreted with great caution as the study participants will not necessarily be representative of other groups."
He added: "And it shouldn't be taken as a recommendation to eat a particular type of cheese."