Could a type of cheese help strengthen your bones?

News Photo: Could a type of cheese help strengthen your bones?By Steven Reinberg Health Day Reporter

Enjoying just two slices of Jarlsberg cheese each day can help ward off osteoporosis, according to a small Norwegian study.

The bone-thinning protective effect of cheese appears to be a benefit exclusive to Jarlsberg, and just 2 ounces a day appears to be enough to protect bone health, the investigators reported.

“Jarlsberg cheese could have a prophylactic effect on osteopenia and metabolic diseases,” said lead researcher Dr Helge Einar Lundberg, from Skjetten Medical Center in Skjetten. “This needs to be further investigated in a long-term study in a larger population of older women and men at risk of developing osteoporosis.”

Jarlsberg is a mild, semi-soft cheese made from cow’s milk from Jarlsberg in eastern Norway. The TINE Group, the manufacturers and distributors of Jarlsberg, did not fund this study.

Vitamin K2 and DHNA (1,4-dihydroxy-2-naphthoic acid) in Jarlsberg cheese show promising results in preserving bones, said Lundberg, who added that no vitamin K supplement or other cheese contains the same healthy ingredients as Jarlsberg.

“As a doctor, I have to prescribe pills all the time, and a lot of people also take too many supplements,” Lundberg said. “A healthy diet could be among the best therapies.”

Several types of cheese on the market contain vitamin K2, including Jarlsberg and Norvegia, he said.

“What sets Jarlsberg apart from others is a special type of vitamin K2 [MK-9/4H], which is produced by a type of bacteria used in the production of Jarlsberg. In this process, the only enzyme [DHNA] which has so far been shown to increase a central protein in bone formation in the body is also produced,” Lundberg explained.

“This protein is called osteocalcin. With the help of vitamin K2, osteocalcin is activated. This activation process seems to go much faster than previously thought and means that calcium and magnesium blood is carried into the bone,” he said.

For the study, Lundberg and her colleagues randomly assigned 66 young women to eat either 2 ounces of Jarlsberg or about the same amount of Camembert each day for six weeks. After the first six weeks, participants switched cheeses for another six weeks.

Both Jarlsberg and Camembert contain about the same amount of fat and protein, but only Jarlsberg is rich in vitamin K2.

After each step, blood samples were taken to measure osteocalcin and a peptide (PINP) linked to bone remodeling. Vitamin K2 and blood lipid levels were also measured.

Blood samples showed that markers of bone turnover, including osteocalcin and vitamin K2, increased after six weeks in those who ate Jarlsberg. These levels among Camembert consumers remained unchanged, but increased after switching to Jarlsberg. PINP levels also increased.

Although blood fats increased slightly in both groups, total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels fell with Jarlsberg. Additionally, blood sugar levels fell 3% in those who ate Jarlsberg, but rose 2% in those who ate Camembert.

The report was published online August 2 in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

Dr. Stuart Weinerman, an endocrinologist at Northwell Health in Great Neck, NY, doesn’t think this small study proves Jarlsberg benefits bone health. Specifically, he said, the study does not show that eating this cheese prevents osteoporosis or strengthens bones or, more importantly, prevents fractures.

Weinerman also said that other studies have shown no benefit of vitamin K on bone health. “I don’t believe it works and I don’t think it’s dangerous,” he said. But vitamin K is a clotting agent and therefore may not be safe for all patients, he noted.

People shouldn’t start eating Jarlsberg in hopes of not developing osteoporosis or preventing bone fractures, he said.

“Jarlsberg certainly does not and should not replace drugs or interventions that have been studied in large populations to actually change outcomes, such as osteoporosis drugs in high-risk patients,” Weinerman said.


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“Don’t take calcium or vitamin D or vitamin K thinking it’s going to be effective in reducing fractures, where the evidence just isn’t there,” he said. “The evidence is to the contrary – it just doesn’t work.”

Samantha Heller, senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City, agreed.

“We don’t need an excuse to eat more cheese — if anything, we would probably all benefit from eating less,” she said. “Americans eat more than 39 pounds of cheese per person each year. That’s tons of saturated fat, sodium, and about 56,000 calories,” Heller said.

Overall, cheese should be used to enhance flavor, not to bury the food it’s served with, she said.

“We can help create and maintain bone health by regularly engaging in weight-bearing exercises and eating a variety of healthy foods to meet our nutrient needs,” Heller said. “Opting for fewer processed foods and more whole foods can help provide vitamins and minerals that are important for bone health.”

More information

To learn more about osteoporosis, visit the US National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Helge Einar Lundberg, MD, Skjetten Medical Center, Skjetten, Norway; Stuart Weinerman, MD, endocrinologist, Northwell Health, Great Neck, NY; Samantha Heller, MS, RD, CDN, senior clinical nutritionist, NYU Langone Health, New York City; BMJ Nutrition Prevention & HealthAugust 2, 2022, online

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