Milk sphingomyelin (SM), a polar lipid (PL) component of milk fat globule membranes, is protective against dyslipidemia. However, it is unclear whether ingestion of milk PLs protect against atherosclerosis. To determine this, male LDLr mice (age 6 weeks) were fed ad libitum either a high-fat, added-cholesterol diet (CTL; 45% kcal from fat, 0.2% cholesterol by weight; n=15) or the same diet supplemented with 1% milk PL (1% MPL; n=15) or 2% milk PL (2% MPL; n=15) added by weight from butter serum. After 14 weeks on diets, mice fed 2% MPL had significantly lower serum cholesterol (-51%) compared to CTL (P<.01), with dose-dependent effects in lowering VLDL- and LDL-cholesterol. Mice fed 2% MPL displayed lower inflammatory markers in the serum, liver, adipose and aorta. Notably, milk PLs reduced atherosclerosis development in both the thoracic aorta and the aortic root, with 2% MPL-fed mice having significantly lower neutral lipid plaque size by 59% (P<.01) and 71% (P<.02) compared to CTL, respectively. Additionally, the 2% MPL-fed mice had greater relative abundance of Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria and Bifidobacterium, and lower Firmicutes in cecal feces compared to CTL. Milk PL feeding resulted in significantly different microbial communities as demonstrated by altered beta diversity indices. In summary, 2% MPL strongly reduced atherogenic lipoprotein cholesterol, modulated gut microbiota, lowered inflammation and attenuated atherosclerosis development. Thus, milk PL content may be important to consider when choosing dairy products as foods for cardiovascular disease prevention.
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