Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
27 Dec

Monday Musings: Dairy Fat Good and Placebos Win (with a twist)

Dairy resides in a murky area for some of you guys, but I think most of us can appreciate a good slab of grass-fed butter, maybe a bit of raw cheese, and some fermented dairy, either kefir or yogurt. A select few may not. If dairy makes you feel bad, don’t use it – it’s unnecessary – but if your avoidance stems purely from principle (ie, “it’s a little too Neolithic for me; I’ll just play it safe and avoid it altogether”), the latest study on dairy fat might nudge you toward its thick, viscous, white embrace. Researchers found that patients who ate the most dairy fat, from things like cream, whole milk, and butter, had a 60% lower risk of developing diabetes than patients eating the least dairy fat.

Those who ate the most dairy fat also showed the highest plasma levels of a fatty acid called trans-palmitoleic acid, prompting the study’s authors to zero in on that particular fatty acid as the potentially causative factor. There is a tendency to reduce foods to their individual constituents. Individual constituents, after all, can be “candidates for potential enrichment… and supplementation,” which makes a doctor’s job that much easier, and makes it easy to explain away “paradoxes.” Just wait: trans-palmitoleic acid is gonna be the new red wine when it comes to explaining the “French paradox.” At the end of the day, though, they do admit that “efforts to promote exclusive consumption of low-fat and nonfat dairy products … may be premature.” Hey, it ain’t much, but I’ll take it.

Next, there’s new research on the placebo effect. The major criticism of clinical use of the placebo effect is that it’s unethical for doctors to lie to patients, even if their ultimate goal is to help them, because, well, lying is bad. But what if they didn’t have to lie to manifest the placebo effect? What if patients who knowingly took a placebo sugar pill still showed improvements over the control group who received no treatment at all? If that happened, I imagine things might have to be reevaluated.

Well, it happened. Eighty patients with irritable bowel syndrome were divided into two groups. The first group received a sugar pill twice daily and took it knowingly; 59% reported reduced IBS symptoms and “adequate relief.” Of the second group, who received nothing, 35% reported similarly good results. There was no blatant deception, but the placebo group was told that sugar pills “have been shown in rigorous clinical testing to produce significant mind-body self-healing processes,” so it’s possible the placebo group was expecting something to come of it. Which, you know, is pretty much the basic foundation of the placebo effect. Science-Based Medicine is up in arms about this study, and while I don’t disagree that some measure of deceit was used, I’m not sure I agree that it’s necessarily a bad thing. I think it just reinforces how much control we have over our own health. And no, I’m not talking about anything mystical or magical. I’m just saying that if we slow down for a minute, take a few deep breaths, and realize that stressing out over a sickness – real or imagined – does us no good, we seem to start to feel better. It certainly has worked in placebo trials.

It appears the placebo effect has a lot to do with confidence: in a doctor’s expert opinion, in that pill you’re about to swallow, in the “fact” that things are going to get better because you’re either in good hands or taking effective drugs. You add that to a healthy diet, regular exercise, some sun, some outdoorsy stuff, socializing, leisure, good sleep, and smart use of pharmacologically-active modern medicines? You’re in business. Oh, and dairy fat might help, too.

How’s your relationship with dairy? Does this study make you want a closer one? And do you think you’d be won over by a sweet-talking researcher with pockets full of sugar pills? Let everyone know in the comment section!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Couple questions:

    1) For those of you buying raw dairy, how do you do it? It is illegal in most states.

    2) Why fermented dairy? Is that preferred over just plain raw milk? Fermentation breaks down the sugars, so is fermented preferred because it lowers the sugar intake or for some other reason?

    Marcus wrote on December 28th, 2010
    • 1) Many states do have laws against buying raw milk. Here in Wisconsin, the public health department suceeded in recently passing a law banning the sale of raw milk. That decision is in litigation. Most folks around here simply find a farmer to supply them with raw milk, albeit under the table. The USDA does not allow many French-style raw milk cheeses (i.e. camambere) to be sold in the U.S. due to public health risks.

      Bob wrote on December 28th, 2010
  2. In order to legally buy dairy in Tennessee, I joined a milk co-op, bought a “portion” of the cow, so I am a legal owner of the cow. can go into detail about the benefits of fermentation, but I believe it is the breakdown of the sugars that make it more digestible. This is why yogurt is so easily digested, even if people have issues with lactose intolerance. I am not talking about milk allergy here. That is a whole different animal.

    Michelle wrote on December 28th, 2010
  3. Another placebo effect: A study published in JAMA reported that SSRI antidepressants are no better than placebo for most cases of depression. The authors reviewed 30 years of data and concluded that “the benefit of antidepressant medication compared with placebo may be minimal or nonexistent in patients with mild or moderate symptoms”.

    for more:

    jeffrey dach md

    jeffrey dach md wrote on December 28th, 2010
  4. Regarding raw cheese, our Weston A. Price representative, who also heads up our milk co-op, informs us of farmer’s selling raw cheese, grass-fed beef, grass-fed lamb, free-range chickens. There is a representative in every state, which you can find on the web site. Another bonus to finding a farmer that sells the milk (as opposed to buying at a market), is cost. I pay $2/gallon for my raw, organic milk from grass-fed cows. I get my cream for $2/quart. My eggs from free-range chickens are $1.50/dozen. When the price of good, organic, healthy food is so astronomical, this really helps. Our milk comes from an Amish community, which if you know of one close to you, that is also a good place to start.

    Michelle wrote on December 28th, 2010
  5. I put a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream in my protein shakes, great source of energy, tastes great.

    Nate T wrote on December 28th, 2010
  6. I love raw dairy; consume raw milk from grass fed jersey cows, raw butter and raw cream daily. It is a life giving and healing food which has given me tremendous health improvements. it is illegal here in Florida but can sold under the label “for pet consumption only”. A crime by the FDA and Dairy Cartel. I too belong to a coop which I found through my local chapter leader of the Weston A Price Foundation. Our prices are not so good $8 a gallon for milk, $10 a lb for butter and $10 a quart for cream but worth every penny. If i can’t have raw I go without and that includes cheese.

    Paula Jager wrote on December 28th, 2010
  7. I drank full fat (pasteurized) milk for about 30 years, ate ice cream, yogurt, cheese and my only health “benefits” were constant acne all over my face, chest pain/tightness, upset stomach all the time and lots of gas. I now stay away from all dairy and have none of these problems anymore. I don’t care what study says there’s some good qualities about dairy products. Studies show that wheat has some good things in it too but I’m not gonna start eating wheat again either.

    HunterP wrote on December 29th, 2010
  8. Thanks for this blurb Mark! I can’t read the abstract, if you know of an article that goes into more depth on the study, I would love to know it.

    I’ve been writing quite a bit about dairy fat lately to help people understand the difference, but need to find the backing behind this before I can add it to the second edition of my book. I’m also curious if they were simply comparing those who consumed dairy fat to those who consumed low fat dairy (a common study that does produce superior results for the dairy fat group) or if they were comparing the dairy fat group to those who consumed no dairy at all. This would be of great interest to me. Thanks!

    Alisa Fleming wrote on December 29th, 2010
  9. Thanks for another fascinating discussion Mark. As far as I am concerned unpasteurised dairy is definitely primal and suits me. According to Sally Fallon in her book “Nourishing Traditions” all primal societies ate some raw protein and fat in their diet. It is the only way to get vitamin B6 into your diet. Unfortunately I am unable to eat raw meat or offal so I make do with unpasteurised cheese which is not too difficult to get. When we are having spaghetti bolognase I simply grate some cheese on the grass fed mince and the extra fat makes it a satisfying meal.Don’t get too caught up in any idealogical crusade about what Primal should or shouldn’t be. Look at the Massai tribe in Kenya. Blood and raw milk only.

    pat wrote on December 29th, 2010
  10. HI Mark. I love your blog (and just gave copies of your book to some of my top clients for Christmas – great gift!), although rarely do I actually get around to commenting! Today, though, I have a question about your post …

    I love raw dairy, and eat a lot of it. Cream with berries most nights (helps me sleep), and I use raw butter for cooking. Just yesterday a friend made a comment to me that got me worried. She said that traditional cultures only milk their cows for 4-5 months of the year, as pregnant cows’ milk is highly estrogenic – raw or not, obviously.

    I’ve never even considered this, and was wondering what you’d say about it?


    Kat Eden wrote on December 29th, 2010
  11. Mark,
    If I do not get the early morning gym time in, (which is as primal as you can get, 5:00am), the 3:00 pm greek yogurt, (everyday)mix in the almonds, pumpkin seeds and raisons, something is out of whack,
    Keep up the good stuff,


    Thomas Matt wrote on December 30th, 2010
  12. This is incredible. i just stumbled upon this post and I am overwhelmed. Never knew there was so much to knwo about dairy. Nice one. Thanks

    shawn @ four hour body wrote on December 31st, 2010
  13. This is incredible. i just stumbled upon this post and I am overwhelmed. Never knew there was so much to know about dairy. Nice one. Thanks

    shawn @ four hour body wrote on December 31st, 2010
  14. I love reading your articles and I always wish you would cite where you are getting your information from….Happy New Year!

    Sigrid wrote on January 5th, 2011
  15. I’ve been primal since April 2010.
    In June 2010 I started adding RAW Goat’s Milk to my regime with a lot of positive side effects. And only 1 bad side effect.

    The positive is that raw goats milk not only heals your gums and intestines and is a good source of bio-organic sodium for your gut lining, also alkalizes the gut with L-Glutamine…it builds, teeth, bones, makes hair grow stronger, nails grow strong and shiney, is nutrient rich with many bio-organic minerals and Vitamins. It keeps my digestion healthy, eliminates ALL cravings of any kind and calms the mood.

    Bad side effect is that it is high in Tryptophan and makes ya want to take a nap =P
    So drinking it around the clock will most likely make you a little bit more sedative.

    I switched to store bought, ultra-pasteurized milk over the holidays because my goat milk supplier was on vacation. I gained 8 lbs drinking that crap from the store.
    Nobody has an explaination why I can drink 3 gallons of RAW goats milk a week and not gain an ounce…but as soon as I stop drinking raw and buy store milk (and only drink about 1 gallon a week of that) I gain weight like mad….I’m baffled.

    suvetar wrote on January 6th, 2011
  16. Sadly up here in Canada (at this time) the sale of raw milk, or milk products which have not been aged at-least 60 days is totally banned.

    David Pile wrote on March 26th, 2011
  17. My question comes late for the post, but I’ll try…
    Since I started eating dairies again, I notice that my body odor is much stronger (sweat and also urine)… same for my boyfriend.
    I tried the pasturized products first, and then switched to the raw milk butter, raw milk camembert, etc. Same result concerning the body odors.
    Is it normal?

    Sonia wrote on March 31st, 2011
  18. Consuming just heavy whipping cream (usually from pastured cows) these last few months has been a nice respite from all of the sugary treats I knocked out of my diet. Whipping up some cream, adding a pinch of stevia and some bananas or walnuts can be a wonderful way to start the day. I gave some to a friend who claims lactose intolerance and she was amazed and surprised that she didn’t have constant gas for the rest of the day. Now she’s onto heavy whipping cream when she’s been putting that non-dairy creamer crap in her coffee for the last year.

    The few times I’ve had ice cream in the last few months I experience slight stomach tightness… but not with just heavy cream. So, I’d be happy to keep it in my diet. Mixes with coffee and cream so much better anyway!

    Ruby wrote on August 28th, 2011
  19. I’m curious about information on Sheeps milk. I lived on a sheep farm in France for awhile where I helped milk the sheep, then turn that into cheese and yogurt. It was the best yogurt I’ve ever eaten (much milder flavor and not upsetting to my stomach at all which cows yogurt always does for me unfortunately). Does anyone know why sheep products aren’t available in America (none that I have seen, anway. If you know of producers please link me up!)? I’d like to hear some chatter about sheep dairy!

    drea wrote on October 24th, 2011

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