Antioxidants in cheese may protect blood vessels from salt damage

Antioxidants naturally found in cheese may help protect blood vessels from damage from high levels of salt in the diet, according to a new study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University, which published in the Journal of Nutrition.

In a randomized, crossover design study supported by the National Dairy Council, the researchers found that when adults consumed a high sodium diet, they also experienced blood vessel dysfunction. But, when the same adults consumed four servings of cheese a day alongside the same high sodium diet, they did not experience this effect.

While sodium is a mineral that is vital to the human body in small doses, the researchers said too much dietary sodium is associated with cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, with the ideal amount being closer to 1,500 milligrams for most adults.

The researchers recruited 11 adults without salt-sensitive blood pressure for the study. They each followed four separate diets for eight days at a time: a low-sodium, no-dairy diet; a low-sodium, high-cheese diet; a high-sodium, no-dairy diet; and a high-sodium, high-cheese diet.

The low sodium diets had participants consume 1,500 milligrams of salt a day, while the high sodium diets included 5,500 milligrams of salt per day. The cheese diets included 170 grams, or about four servings, of several different types of cheese a day.

At the end of each weeklong diet, the participants returned to the lab for testing. The researchers inserted tiny fibers under the participants' skin and applied a small amount of the drug acetylcholine, a compound that signals blood vessels to relax. By examining how each participants' blood vessels reacted to the drug, the researchers were able to measure blood vessel function. The participants also underwent blood pressure monitoring and provided a urine sample to ensure they had been consuming the correct amount of salt throughout the week.

The researchers found that after a week on the high sodium, no cheese diet, the participants' blood vessels did not respond as well to the acetylcholine, which is specific to specialized cells in the blood vessel and had a more difficult time relaxing. But this was not seen after the high sodium, high cheese diet.

Researchers said it will be important to study these effects in larger studies, as well as further research possible mechanisms by which dairy foods may preserve vascular health.

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