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The effect of ghee (clarified butter) on serum lipid levels
and microsomal lipid peroxidation

Ghee, also known as clarified butter or anhydrous milk fat, is prepared by heating butter or cream to just over 100°C to remove water content by boiling and evaporation, then filtering out the precipitated milk solids. Ghee is known as ghrta (commonly spelled ghrita) in Sanskrit. Ayurveda has traditionally considered ghee to be the healthiest source of edible fat, with many beneficial properties. According to Ayurveda, ghee promotes longevity and protects the body from various diseases. It increases the digestive fire (agni) and improves absorption and assimilation. It nourishes ojas, the subtle essence of all the body’s tissues (dhatus). It improves memory and strengthens the brain and nervous system. It lubricates the connective tissues, thereby rendering the body more flexible. With regard to the three doshas (organizing principles that govern the physiology), ghee pacifies Vata and Pitta and is acceptable for Kapha in moderation.

Ghee is heavily utilized in Ayurveda for numerous medical applications, including the treatment of allergy, skin, and respiratory diseases. Many Ayurvedic preparations are made by cooking herbs into ghee. Ghee carries the therapeutic properties of herbs to all the body’s tissues. It is an excellent anupana (vehicle) for transporting herbs to the deeper tissue layers of the body. Proper digestion, absorption, and delivery to a target organ system are crucial in obtaining the maximum benefit from any therapeutic formulation; the lipophilic action of ghee facilitates transportation to a target organ and final delivery inside the cell since the cell membrane also contains lipid. A study that compared different forms of herbs and herb extracts found that the efficacy increased when they were used with ghee, compared to usage in powder or tablet form.

Ghee is considered sacred and used in religious rituals as well as in the diet in India. In ancient India, ghee was the preferred cooking oil. It was considered pure and was felt to confer purity to foods cooked with it. Ghee and other similar products such as samn (variant of the Arabic term samn) are used in many parts of the world.

Our previous fatty acid analysis of ghee indicated it contains 47.8% saturated fat, which is similar to data reported in the literature. There has been concern about the possibility of ghee contributing to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease since it contains a high percentage of saturated fatty acids, leading to increased synthesis of cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the consumption of saturated fats to less than 7% of energy to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Previous results from our laboratory indicated that 5 and 10% ghee-supplemented diets fed for 2 weeks to 2 months did not have any significant effect on serum total cholesterol and triglyceride levels in Sprague-Dawley rats, an outbred strain of rats used as a general experimental model. However, a 10% ghee-supplemented diet fed for 2 months increased serum total cholesterol and triglyceride levels in Fischer rats, an inbred strain of rats genetically predisposed to disease processes.

Free radicals and reactive oxygen species have been linked to many chronic diseases, as well as the aging process. Lipid peroxidation, a free radical-mediated reaction, has been implicated in various disorders such as post-ischemic conditions, inflammation, head injury, stroke, carcinogenesis, cardiovascular disease, and aging. In the present study, we investigated the effects of 10% dietary ghee on microsomal lipid peroxidation, as well as serum lipids, in Fischer inbred rats to elucidate the effect of ghee on the risk of cardiovascular and other free radical-induced diseases.

Results

A 10% ghee-supplemented diet fed for a period of 4 weeks did not have any significant effect on the serum total cholesterol level of Fischer inbred rats [Figure 1]. However, 10% dietary ghee significantly (P < 0.05) increased the serum triglyceride level [Figure 2]. There was no significant effect of 10% dietary ghee on liver microsomal lipid peroxidation [Figure 3]. Similarly, 10% dietary ghee fed for 4 weeks did not have any effect on liver microsomal lipid peroxide levels [Figure 4].

*Study provided by Hari Sharma, Xiaoying Zhang, & Chandradhar Dwivedi

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