Dairy fat and its fatty acids (FAs) have been shown to possess pro-health properties that can support health maintenance and disease prevention. In particular, branched-chain FAs (BCFAs), comprising approximately 2% of dairy fat, have recently been proposed as bioactive molecules contributing to the positive health effects associated with the consumption of full-fat dairy products. This narrative review evaluates human trials assessing the relationship between BCFAs and metabolic risk factors, while potential underlying biological mechanisms of BCFAs are explored through discussion of studies in animals and cell lines. In addition, this review details the biosynthetic pathway of BCFAs as well as the content and composition of BCFAs in common retail dairy products. Research performed with in vitro models demonstrates the potent, structure-specific properties of BCFAs to protect against inflammation, cancers, and metabolic disorders. Yet, human trials assessing the effect of BCFAs on disease risk are surprisingly scarce, and to our knowledge, no research has investigated the specific role of dietary BCFAs. Thus, our review highlights the critical need for scientific inquiry regarding dairy-derived BCFAs, and the influence of this overlooked FA class on human health.
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