High omega-3 fatty acid content in alpine cheese: the basis for an alpine paradox

Circulation. 2004 Jan 6;109(1):103-7. doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.0000105989.74749.DD. Epub 2003 Dec 15.


Background: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) may protect from cardiovascular disease. Because fresh alpine grass contains high amounts of ALA, we hypothesized that the levels of omega-3 fatty acids would concentrate to nutritional relevance in the cheese of milk from cows with alpine grass feeding compared with cheese from silage and concentrate feeding; the newly available cheese produced from cows fed with linseed supplementation should contain even higher ALA concentrations.

Methods and results: Forty different cheeses were analyzed by gas chromatography for their fatty acid profile: (1) 12 from well-defined alpine regions around Gstaad, Switzerland; (2) 7 commercially available English cheddar cheeses; (3) 6 cheeses from cows fed with linseed supplementation; (4) 7 industrial-type Emmentals; and (5) 8 alpine cheeses with partial silage feeding. The alpine cheese contained 4 times more linolenic acid (C18:3omega-3) compared with cheddar, more total omega-3 fatty acids, and showed a significantly lower n-6:omega-3 ratio. Conjugated linoleic acid (C18:2 c9/t11) was 3-fold higher, whereas the amount of palmitic acid was 20% lower. The Emmental reached 40% of the ALA content compared with alpine cheese, and surprisingly, cheese from linseed-supplemented cows contained only 49% of that of the alpine cheese (P<0.001 for each trait in the 5 cheese groups).

Conclusions: Cheese made of milk from cows grazed on alpine pastures had a more favorable fatty acid profile than all other cheese types. Alpine cheese may be a relevant source of ALA and other cardioprotective fatty acids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arachidonic Acid / analysis
  • Cheese / analysis*
  • England
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / analysis*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / analysis
  • Linoleic Acids, Conjugated / analysis
  • Palmitic Acids / analysis
  • Switzerland
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / analysis


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6
  • Linoleic Acids, Conjugated
  • Palmitic Acids
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid
  • Arachidonic Acid