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Gut Health

Eating Dairy Might Be Even Better for Your Gut Than You Realize

A sprinkle of cheese, a cup of yogurt or a glass of milk could help you achieve better gut health, research suggests.

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In recent years, dairy has gotten something of a (pretty unfair) bad rap. With an increase in plant-based, dairy-free products, regular ol’ milk is getting pushed aside in favor of “healthier” alternatives. But eating and enjoying dairy isn’t necessarily bad for you or your health. Dairy doesn’t really contribute to inflammation, and it may even help improve heart health factors like blood pressure. And now, researchers are finding that dairy might even be beneficial for your gut health.

That’s right: Dairy may be able to wield some positive influence over your gut. So, before you swear off yogurts, cheeses and dairy-based milks, you’re going to want to read this.

It all starts with your gut bacteria

You know a balance of diverse bacteria in your gut is necessary for good overall gut health. As scientists learn increasingly more about what, exactly, the gut needs, we’re finding that certain kinds of bacteria may be better or more helpful than others.

Research published in Cell Host & Microbe is taking an even closer look at the bacteria that may benefit the gut and microbiome. Researchers found that the presence of a particular kind of bacteria –or bacteria-based virus, to be specific – in the gut microbiota may lead to improvements in cognitive function and memory. 

Their work examined a sample of 114 people, plus data from 942 subjects involved in IDIBGI’s Ageing Imagenoma Project. The researchers found that bacteriophages, which are a type of virus that replicates in bacteria, can influence the connections between your gut and your brain. 

The link between gut and brain, also called the gut-brain axis, can dictate how different parts of your body function and work together. And based on the researchers’ findings, it turns out that bacteriophages can also shape your brain’s health and activity. 

In the course of their work, the study’s researchers found that participants who had more of a certain kind of bacteriophage saw improved brain function. Specifically, having Caudovirales present in the gut led to improvements in executive processes and verbal memory.

On the other hand, participants who had a different bacteriophage present in their guts, Microviridae, saw the opposite effect. These individuals saw greater deterioration in their brains’ executive function. 

How, exactly, can you get more of the good-for-your-gut Caudovirales bacteriophage? That’s where dairy comes in.

Dairy can deliver the key bacteriophage your gut needs

The study’s researchers didn’t stop their work once they pinpointed the Caudovirales bacteriophage as beneficial for the gut-brain axis. They continued their work to find out just how this particular bacteria-driven virus winds up inside the microbiome.

After conducting food surveys on their participants and learning about what they were eating, the researchers noted that individuals with more Caudovirales in their guts were eating more dairy products on a regular basis. 

And this finding also links up with previous research on cognitive function. Other studies have concluded that eating more dairy products may be connected to better cognitive performance.

While more research is needed to examine just how beneficial getting Caudovirales from dairy products may be, these results – along with previous research into dairy and cognition – suggest that there may be some promise ahead. Eating dairy and winding up with Caudovirales in your microbiota just might offer your brain some benefits.

Are these dairy-based bacteriophages problematic at all?

It’s worth noting that because bacteriophages are actually viruses, they aren’t exactly the same as your run-of-the-mill gut bacteria. There’s also a lot that’s still unknown about bacteriophages and their role in the gut.

But you can take comfort in the fact that dairy-based foods aren’t just giving you viruses. Bacteriophages are present in every ecosystem and everywhere bacteria exist. In fact, they actually outnumber bacteria tenfold! And all of the known bacteriophages that are found in dairy products (specifically, their lactic acid) belong to the Caudovirales order. You don’t have to worry about them; rather, as the authors of the above study point out, bacteriophages could ultimately turn out to be key players in the gut-brain axis.

Learn more about your gut and its influence on the brain:

Featured recipe: Roasted Grape and Salmon Kale Salad with Cider Maple Vinaigrette & Gorgonzola

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