Researchers from Washington State University, Pullman, found that organic milk contains significantly higher concentrations of heart-healthy fatty acids compared to milk from cows on conventionally managed dairy farms. That is because cows consume more pasture and forage-based feeds on organic dairy farms.

The researchers tested nearly 400 samples of organic and conventional milk over an 18-month period. Conventional milk had an average omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 5.8, more than twice that of organic milk’s ratio of 2.3.

Professor Charles Benbrook will elaborate on his research in the February 2014 issue of Dairy Foods.

The consumption of more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids is a well-known risk factor for a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, excessive inflammation and autoimmune diseases. The higher the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, the greater the associated health risk.

The team also compared the fatty acids in dairy products to those in fish. It found that recommended intakes of full-fat milk products supply more of the major omega-3 fatty acid ALA than recommended servings of fish. Conventional milk had about nine times more ALA than fish while organic milk had 14 times more. Organic milk is also a significant source of two other omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DPA, but not DHA.

 The Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools and its Organic Valley brand helped fund the study but had no role in its design or analysis. The study was published Dec. 9 in the online journal PLOS ONE.