Scientists research cholesterol-lowering milk

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 29th April 2011

Milk that fights cholesterol absorbtion, from specially fed cows, is being developed by Victorian Government scientists, with the aim of eventual commercial availability.

Victorian Minister for Agriculture and Food Security Peter Walsh said the search for cholesterol-fighting milk was the focus of collaborative research underway at the Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) dairy research centre at Ellinbank.

“The research being undertaken at Ellinbank could show that milk can play an instrumental role in reducing risk of heart disease and high blood pressure,” Walsh said.

“Scientists are investigating whether feeding dairy cows differently could result in milk that helps lower cholesterol absorption in humans.

“About 160 grazing cows are being fed supplements of either wheat grain in the dairy at milking time or a mixed ration containing wheat, maize grain, maize silage and lucerne hay.

“The study – which has never been done on this scale – aims to show whether different components of a cow’s diet can enhance natural levels of phytosterols in the milk it produces.

“Studies have shown that phytosterols, which are cholesterol-like molecules found in plant foods, can block dietary cholesterol absorption in humans.

“Enhancing the natural levels of phytosterols would make milk even healthier to drink by fighting the body’s absorption of cholesterol.”

Walsh said phytosterols were not produced by animals or humans and so were often added to foods. Commercial phytosterol fortification levels in food products can be up to 100 times greater than naturally occurring levels in fresh vegetables, fruit and nuts.

The research is supported by DPI, Dairy Australia, the Gardiner Foundation, Victoria University and the National Measurement Institute (NMI) and will form the basis of NMI scientist Samantha Duong’s PhD program.