Ghee, also known as clarified butter, has been utilized for thousands of years in Ayurveda as a therapeutic agent. In ancient India, ghee was the preferred cooking oil. In the last several decades, ghee has been implicated in the increased prevalence of coronary artery disease (CAD) in Asian Indians due to its content of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol and, in heated ghee, cholesterol oxidation products. Our previous research on Sprague-Dawley outbred rats, which serve as a model for the general population, showed no effect of 5 and 10% ghee-supplemented diets on serum cholesterol and triglycerides. However, in Fischer inbred rats, which serve as a model for genetic predisposition to diseases, results of our previous research showed an increase in serum total cholesterol and triglyceride levels when fed a 10% ghee-supplemented diet. In the present study, we investigated the effect of 10% dietary ghee on microsomal lipid peroxidation, as well as serum lipid levels in Fischer inbred rats to assess the effect of ghee on free radical mediated processes that are implicated in many chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease. Results showed that 10% dietary ghee fed for 4 weeks did not have any significant effect on levels of serum total cholesterol, but did increase triglyceride levels in Fischer inbred rats. Ghee at a level of 10% in the diet did not increase liver microsomal lipid peroxidation or liver microsomal lipid peroxide levels. Animal studies have demonstrated many beneficial effects of ghee, including dose-dependent decreases in serum total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL), very low density lipoprotein (VLDL), and triglycerides; decreased liver total cholesterol, triglycerides, and cholesterol esters; and a lower level of nonenzymatic-induced lipid peroxidation in liver homogenate. Similar results were seen with heated (oxidized) ghee which contains cholesterol oxidation products. A preliminary clinical study showed that high doses of medicated ghee decreased serum cholesterol, triglycerides, phospholipids, and cholesterol esters in psoriasis patients. A study on a rural population in India revealed a significantly lower prevalence of coronary heart disease in men who consumed higher amounts of ghee. Research on Maharishi Amrit Kalash-4 (MAK-4), an Ayurvedic herbal mixture containing ghee, showed no effect on levels of serum cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL), LDL, or triglycerides in hyperlipidemic patients who ingested MAK-4 for 18 weeks. MAK-4 inhibited the oxidation of LDL in these patients. The data available in the literature do not support a conclusion of harmful effects of the moderate consumption of ghee in the general population. Factors that may be involved in the rise of CAD in Asian Indians include the increased use of vanaspati (vegetable ghee) which contains 40% trans fatty acids, psychosocial stress, insulin resistance, and altered dietary patterns. Research findings in the literature support the beneficial effects of ghee outlined in the ancient Ayurvedic texts and the therapeutic use of ghee for thousands of years in the Ayurvedic system of medicine.
Keywords: Anhydrous milk fat; cholesterol; clarified butter; coronary artery disease; ghee; lipid peroxidation; vanaspati; vegetable ghee..