LONDON — A trendy type of Norwegian cheese may help stave off bone thinning, a new study suggests. Roughly one serving (57 grams) of Jarlsberg cheese can help stop bones from getting weaker without boosting cholesterol, according to researchers in Norway.
The team found that these health benefits are unique to the Nordic dairy product and aren’t found in other types of cheese. Jarlsberg is a nutty, mild, and semi-soft cheese with holes that comes from cow’s milk. It owes its name to a town in Eastern Norway.
The researchers hope that the cheese may help stop osteoporosis and even prevent diabetes, but they add that more research is necessary. Earlier research suggested that Jarlsberg cheese boosts levels of osteocalcin, a hormone that gives people stronger bones and teeth.
However, it’s been unclear whether this link was specific to Jarlsberg cheese or applied to all types of cheese. To find out, the academics studied 66 healthy women who either ate 57 grams of Jarlsberg or 50 grams of Camembert cheese every day for six weeks.
Participants were all healthy, with a healthy weight and an average age of 33. Afterwards, the group munching on Camembert were allowed to nibble on Jarlsberg for six weeks.
What makes Jarlsberg more nutritious?
Both cheeses have similar levels of fat and protein, but Jarlsberg is also rich in vitamin K2 while Camembert is not. One form of vitamin K2 is found in animal products such as liver, while others come from bacteria and fermented foods such as cheese.
Researchers took blood samples from participants to check for important proteins, osteocalcin, and a peptide (PINP) — which helps bones renew themselves and stay young. The samples showed key signs of bones renewing themselves, while levels of vitamin K2 increased after six weeks among people eating Jarlsberg cheese daily.
Among people who ate Camembert, PINP levels stayed the same while other indicators of bone health fell slightly. However, levels of both PINP and the chemical and biological indicators rose significantly after these participants switched to Jarlsberg.
Blood fats increased slightly in both groups, but cholesterol levels tumbled in people once they made the switch from Camembert to Jarlsberg. The amount of glucose in red blood cells fell by three percent in people who ate Jarlsberg but rose by two percent in people who ate Camembert.
Once the Camembert group switched to Jarlsberg, the glucose levels fell again. Calcium and magnesium levels fell in people who ate Jarlsberg but remained unchanged in people who ate Camembert.
What’s the secret ingredient in the cheese?
Researchers say bacteria in the cheese produces the substance DNHA which earlier studies have suggested could reduce bone thinning and increase bone tissue formation. They add this could explain the rise in osteocalcin.
“Daily Jarlsberg cheese consumption has a positive effect on osteocalcin, other [markers of bone turnover], glycated hemoglobin and lipids,” the researchers write in a media release, adding that the effects are specific to this particular cheese.
“This study shows that while calcium and vitamin D are known to be extremely important for bone health, there are other key factors at play, such as vitamin K2, which is perhaps not as well known,” says Professor Sumantra Ray, Executive Director for the NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health.
“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. This needs to be addressed in future studies.”
“As this is a small study in young and healthy people designed to explore novel pathways linking diet and bone health, the results need to be interpreted with great caution as the study participants will not necessarily be representative of other groups. And it shouldn’t be taken as a recommendation to eat a particular type of cheese,” Prof. Ray concludes.
The study is published in the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.
SWNS contributed to this report.