Yogurt: A Top Food for Fighting Inflammation

yogurt for inflammation

Story at-a-glance -

  • Yogurt is one of the best fermented foods available, especially if you choose to make your own using raw organic milk from grass fed cows
  • Scientists continue to draw out the many health benefits of yogurt and new research suggests this popular dairy product may act as an anti-inflammatory agent and postmeal metabolism booster
  • Keep in mind the many varieties of yogurt available at the supermarket — including some organic brands — contain high amounts of health-damaging additives such as artificial colors, artificial flavors, sugar and sugar substitutes
  • If you suffer from high blood pressure, you may be interested to know researchers have linked higher yogurt consumption to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease among hypertensive men and women
  • When you make your own yogurt, you gain its healthy milk-derived nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin A, as well as the beneficial probiotics you need for optimal gut health, plus cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid

By Dr. Mercola

While I believe yogurt is one of the best fermented foods available, particularly if you make your own, scientists continue to conduct research aimed at drawing out new health benefits for this popular dairy product. The latest news, out of the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, suggests yogurt is not only a wonderful inflammation fighter, but also a beneficial "appetizer" that may boost your postmeal metabolism.

While the current body of work is thought-provoking, it's important to note the research was funded by the National Dairy Council, an organization with a clear interest in promoting dairy products. Beyond that, more studies are needed to validate the potential anti-inflammatory and metabolic-boosting effects of yogurt.

Even so, traditional yogurt has long been established as a beneficial food that promotes healthy gut bacteria. I highly recommend it with one caution: Steer clear of the sugary, chemical-laden versions sold in your local market. If you want good-tasting, high-quality yogurt, it's best to make your own.

Eating a Premeal Serving of Yogurt May Improve Your Postmeal Metabolism

Researchers from UW-Madison have published another paper related to the health benefits of yogurt. The latest study, published in the May 2018 issue of the Journal of Nutrition,1 focuses on a different aspect of research completed in 2017 involving 120 premenopausal women, half of whom were obese. Half of the participants consumed 12 ounces of low-fat yogurt each day for nine weeks, while the others ate a soy-based nondairy pudding.

This is a good time to remind you to avoid soy-based yogurts because 99 percent of the world's soybeans are genetically engineered (GE), as well as low-fat dairy — full-fat varieties are typically the better choice.

As mentioned, the research, led by Brad Bolling, Ph.D., assistant professor of food science at UW-Madison, was funded by the National Dairy Council, a nonprofit organization supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's national dairy checkoff program, whose objective is to promote dairy products (primarily those that come from concentrated animal feeding operations [CAFOs]).2

The study aimed to get to the heart of the debate around dairy — is it inflammatory or, as Bolling and his team suggest, might dairy provide some anti-inflammatory benefits? Beyond addressing the inflammation question, the team sought to uncover any other potential health benefits related to yogurt consumption. One such effect involved the testing of yogurt's effects on postmeal metabolism. With respect to this test, subjects were presented with a high-calorie challenge meal designed to stress their metabolism.

This high-fat, high-carbohydrate breakfast was given to the women at the beginning and end of the nine-week trial, expressly for the purpose of overloading their systems. Bolling stated, "It was two sausage muffins and two hash browns, for a total of 900 calories."3 Half of the group ate a serving of yogurt before eating the other food, while the other half consumed soy pudding.

Bloodwork completed over the ensuing four hours while the meal was being digested indicated the yogurt "appetizer" helped improve key biomarkers of endotoxin exposure and inflammation in the yogurt-eating group. Researchers also noted postmeal glucose levels dropped more quickly in obese women within the yogurt group, suggesting improved glucose metabolism.4

About the results, Ruisong Pei, a UW-Madison food science postdoctoral researcher, said, "Eating 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt before a meal is a feasible strategy to improve postmeal metabolism and thus may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases."5

Eating Yogurt Shown to Reduce Inflammation in Obese Women

Earlier work by the UW-Madison team, focused on the same group of 120 women, was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.6 As mentioned, half the participants ate 12 ounces of low-fat yogurt every day for nine weeks while the others ate a similar amount of a soy-based nondairy pudding.

Throughout the experiment, at various points in time, the researchers took blood samples and assessed them for biomarkers of endotoxins and inflammation. The results, published in late 2017, showed inflammatory markers such as TNF-alpha, an important inflammation-activating protein, were significantly reduced in the group eating yogurt.7

About yogurt's effects on your body, Medical News Today states, "Yogurt is thought to reduce inflammation by improving the integrity of the intestinal lining. And, by bolstering this layer of tissue, endotoxins — produced by gut bacteria — cannot cross into the bloodstream and promote inflammation."8 The study authors said, "Low-fat yogurt for nine weeks reduced biomarkers of chronic inflammation and endotoxin exposure in premenopausal women compared with a nondairy control food."9

Added Bolling, "The results indicate ongoing consumption of yogurt may be having a general anti-inflammatory effect."10 As noted in a 2015 study11 involving some of the same researchers, inflammation is a key concern if you are obese because obesity is often accompanied by chronic, low-grade inflammation that is caused by adipose tissue and problems in your gut. The researchers also noted "obesity-associated dysregulation of microbiota and impaired gut barrier function" may increase your endotoxin exposure.12

The next step for this research will focus on identifying the specific compounds in yogurt that are providing the beneficial effects. "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," says Bolling.

As good as the research sounds, it's best to wait until more studies are completed, with larger groups of people, before making yogurt your new premeal "go-to" food, although, if you enjoy it, there's little harm — and much to gain — from adding raw, full-fat, grass fed yogurt to your regular diet.

Yogurt Consumption Also Shown To Be Good for Your Heart

Beyond reducing inflammation and boosting postmeal metabolism, yogurt consumption has also been linked to your heart health. Specifically, a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Hypertension13 links higher yogurt consumption to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease among men and women with high blood pressure — one of the primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

According to the World Health Organization, high blood pressure affects 1.13 billion people worldwide14 and may also be a major cause of cardiovascular-related health problems. The study involved more than 55,000 women from the Nurses' Health Study who were ages 30 to 55 and had high blood pressure, as well as 18,000 men, ages 40 to 75, who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Higher intakes of yogurt were associated with:15

  • A 30-percent reduction in heart attack risk among women
  • A 19-percent reduction in heart attack risk for the men
  • A 16-percent lower risk of undergoing revascularization for the women
  • About a 20-percent lower risk of major coronary heart disease or stroke during the follow-up period across both groups for participants who consumed more than two servings of yogurt a week
  • Greater reductions in cardiovascular disease risk among hypertensive men and women when higher yogurt consumption was combined with an overall heart-healthy diet

About the outcomes, study author Justin Buendia, Ph.D., department of medicine, preventive medicine and epidemiology, Boston University School of Medicine, said:16

"We hypothesized that long-term yogurt intake might reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems since some previous small studies had shown beneficial effects of fermented dairy products. Here, we had a very large cohort of hypertensive men and women, who were followed for up to 30 years. Our results provide important new evidence that yogurt may benefit heart health alone or as a consistent part of a [heart-healthy] diet."

Reasons to Avoid Commercial Yogurt

Commercial yogurts simply cannot be considered as a health food. Below are just a few of the reasons to avoid store-bought yogurt. Most commercial yogurts:

  • Are filled with additives, artificial colors and artificial flavors
  • Have added sugar and I use the term "sugar" lightly because, very often, GE beet sugar, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup are used, which nourish disease-causing bacteria, yeast and fungi in your gut
  • Use pasteurized milk, which is heated at a high temperature even before it is heated a second time to make yogurt
  • Often do not deliver the probiotic benefits claimed on the label
  • May be laced with GE corn and/or soy based on the diet fed to the cow that produced the milk to make the yogurt; as you probably know, more than 90 percent of the world's supply of corn and soy is known to be GE

A few years ago, the Cornucopia Institute created a Yogurt Scorecard to rate the most popular brands. If you regularly eat popular U.S. brands like Activia, Dannon or Yoplait, for example, you may be surprised to discover they fell near the bottom of the rankings, making them nothing more than a glorified junk food. When buying yogurt from a store, keep in mind even organic brands can be laced with sugar and other additives. Read the labels carefully, or better yet, make your own yogurt!

Boost Your Health by Making Your Own Yogurt at Home

Beyond the fact it contains healthy milk-derived nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin A, homemade yogurt is a fermented food that delivers the beneficial probiotics you need for optimal gut health. In addition, traditional yogurt is a nutrient-dense food rich in high-quality protein, beneficial probiotics and cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid. To receive all of these health benefits, you need to make your own.

If you haven't considered making your own yogurt, it may be you don't realize just how easy it is to do. All you need is a high-quality starter culture and raw organic grass fed milk. Fortunately, there are many excellent starter cultures available online or from your local health food store. Whatever you do, do not use sweetened commercial yogurt as your source of the starter culture because it contains too much sugar and not enough live cultures to be effective.

At the most basic level, you can create yogurt simply by adding the starter culture to the milk and letting it sit overnight at room temperature. That said, because the cultures are temperature sensitive, the trick to making good yogurt is keeping the milk/culture starter mixture at a consistently warm temperature until it has had sufficient time to ferment.17 As demonstrated in the video above, using a dehydrator is an excellent way to control the temperature to promote fermentation.

Gently Heating the Milk Produces Thicker Yogurt

Yogurt-making fans suggest gently heating the milk ensures a more consistent outcome and thicker yogurt. The equipment you will need to produce high-quality homemade yogurt is a heavy-bottomed pot, a spoon and a thermometer, as well as the following step-by-step instructions:18

  1. Place the desired amount of milk in the pot
  2. Heat the milk gently to about 109 degrees F (43 degrees C) to ensure you retain the milk's natural bacteria
  3. Measure and add the starter culture when the milk reaches the correct temperature
  4. Mix thoroughly
  5. Preheat a large, heat-resistant glass jar by pouring boiling water into it
  6. Pour out the boiling water
  7. Add the milk mixture to the jar
  8. Secure a lid on the jar to prevent heat loss
  9. Keep the jar warm for at least six to eight hours, or longer, to activate the cultures
  10. Place your finished yogurt in the refrigerator for five to six hours or until it becomes firm

A few additional tips to consider:19,20

  • Take care when heating the milk because overheating not only kills the live cultures already present in the milk, but can hamper fermentation
  • Wrap a couple of thick towels around the jar and place it in an insulated cooler to keep the mixture warm and help activate the cultures, or use a dehydrator set at 109 degrees F/43 degrees C
  • Once fermented to your desired consistency, homemade yogurt should be stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for five to seven days
  • If you make a new batch of yogurt within seven days, you can forego using starter culture by adding a few tablespoons of your finished product to the milk for the new yogurt

With Homemade Yogurt, You Control the Ingredients

While the consistency won't be quite the same as store-bought yogurt, the beauty of homemade yogurt is its taste and health-boosting properties. Beyond that, you'll have total control over the ingredients. For example, if the tangy natural flavor of homemade yogurt is a bit too strong for your liking, you can easily sweeten it with your favorite whole-food sweetener.

You might try incorporating fresh berries, a squirt of your favorite citrus juice, a pinch of stevia, a little vanilla extract or some dried unsweetened coconut. Of primary importance when making homemade yogurt is the type of milk. I recommend raw organic milk from grass fed cows.

Compared to pasteurized commercial varieties, raw milk yogurt is not only creamier and thicker, but also nutritionally superior. It's best to source your milk from a local organic farm and you can locate a provider near you through the Weston A. Price Foundation's Campaign for Real Milk. High-quality raw milk contains many health benefits, such as:

  • "Good" bacteria that line and protect your gastrointestinal tract
  • Beneficial amino acids, proteins and omega-3 fats
  • More than 60 digestive enzymes that make raw milk very digestible (these enzymes are destroyed in milk that is pasteurized, making it harder for your body to process pasteurized milk)
  • Healthy unoxidized cholesterol

Yogurt Is a Fermented Food That Will Fuel Your Body and Your Health

Once you get the hang of it, incorporating homemade yogurt into your diet will help you realize the many benefits attributed to fermented foods. When yogurt and other cultured products become a regular part of your diet, you will give your digestive tract the beneficial bacteria it needs for optimal functioning. Because 70 to 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, when your gut is healthy, the rest of your body is more likely to be healthy too.

For sure, yogurt has come a long way since it was stumbled upon around 5,000 B.C. during the rise of animal domestication. While it is widely accepted to have Turkish roots, you can give yogurt new roots by incorporating it into your diet. In light of its many benefits to your digestive and heart health, get your hands on a starter culture and start making homemade yogurt today.