Canadian researchers are working to develop milk that contains higher levels of a 'good fat' that they say could fight cancer and heart disease. Recent studies suggest that CLA - conjugated linoleic acid - could have major health benefits.
Scientists at the University of Alberta claim that health-conscious people have been conditioned to think of animal fat as a big no-no in the diet. But the Edmonton researchers maintain that CLA could slow the growth of cancer cells, reduce the risk of heart disease and boost the immune system.
"It's kind of an interesting twist. We've all heard the stories that animal fat is bad for you," said John Kennelly, a professor and chairman of the Department of Agricultural Food and Nutritional Science.
"It's interesting how things come back around again as we look more closely at animal fat and milk fat in particular," he said.
"We're now finding there are specific fats in there that may counteract the effects of some of the other fats in there considered to be negative."
CLA is a fatty acid that naturally occurs in the milk of ruminant animals such as cows, goats and sheep. The Canadian researchers report that they have been able to increase the amount of CLA in cow's milk tenfold by adding oils such as canola, safflower, linseed or flaxseed to the animals' diet. There is a patent pending on the formulation.
Kennelly said the original findings on CLA were in Wisconsin, where researchers were studying the possible carcinogenic effects of barbecued beef. What they found was that a fatty acid in the beef, CLA, had potent anti-carcinogenic effects.
Since then, an array of human and animal studies have been carried out to identify effects of CLA and how it works. That work is continuing, he said.
Scientists hope that within two years the dairy segment at supermarkets will display CLA-enriched milk products.
Kennelly acknowledged that researchers are unaware of the whole story on CLA and how it works.
"Who knows what the future may bring, but there is enough evidence right now to give us confidence to go ahead and work out ways to increase it in milk," he said.