The Health Effects of Ghee: An Evidence-Based Analysis

Ghee, also known as clarified butter, has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine and Indian cooking for its potential therapeutic properties. With roots in ancient tradition, today ghee is growing in popularity around the world. But what does modern science say about the health effects of this unique dairy product? Let’s analyse the current evidence.

Ayurvedic Perspective

In Ayurveda, ghee is considered one of the most sattvic or pure foods. It provides nourishment to all the body’s tissues (dhatus) and enhances the qualities of foods with which it is cooked. Ghee pacifies pitta and vata doshas while increasing kapha in excess. Some key Ayurvedic properties of ghee include:

  • Rasa (taste): sweet
  • Guna (qualities): heavy, unctuous, softening
  • Vipaka (post-digestive effect): sweet
  • Veerya (potency): cooling
  • Prabhav (special action): nourishing, strengthening, lubricating

These qualities make ghee beneficial for improving digestion, assimilation, cognitive function, and immunity when consumed according to one’s constitution (1).

Ghee Composition and Properties

The fatty acid profile of ghee is approximately 62-65% saturated fat, 25-30% monounsaturated fat, and 5-8% polyunsaturated fat (2). The high butterfat content provides ghee with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. It is rich in fat soluble vitamins A, D and E. Ghee contains conjugated linoleic acid which has shown positive effects on body composition and heart health (3). Short chain fatty acids like butyrate have gut health benefits. The removal of the milk solids also makes ghee lactose-free.

Effects on Heart Health

Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of mortality worldwide. Diet plays an important preventative role, thus raising concerns about ghee due to its saturated fat content. However, emerging research suggests ghee may be cardio-protective when consumed in moderation.

A study compared coronary heart patients consuming ghee versus mustard oil. After 2 years, the ghee group had lower cholesterol levels, reduced cardiac events, and less progression of atherosclerosis (4). Diets higher in CLA, abundant in ghee, are associated with improved lipid profiles and insulin sensitivity, reduced plaque formation, and lower heart disease risk (5). The butyrate in ghee also potentially protects endothelial function (6).

Ghee raises beneficial HDL cholesterol while not impacting LDL or triglycerides according to several studies (7). A meta-analysis reported individuals who consumed the highest levels of ghee had an 8% lower risk of heart disease compared to little or no ghee intake (8). Therefore, in the context of a healthy diet, moderate ghee consumption does not appear to raise cardiac risk factors and may provide some benefits.

Effects on Weight and Metabolism

Replacing ghee for other oils may not lead to weight gain based on population data (9). Ghee can induce secretion of the satiety hormones CCK and GLP-1 to help reduce appetite and overeating (10). The conjugated linoleic acid in ghee has shown anti-obesity effects in some trials (11). Oleic acid in ghee may also boost fat breakdown for energy. Subjects given 12-18g of ghee daily saw reductions in abdominal fat, body fat percentage, inflammatory markers, and insulin resistance (12). However, more clinical research is still needed in this area.

Effects on Digestion and Gut Health

Ghee benefits digestion and gut health through its unctuous quality as per Ayurveda. Several components exhibit antimicrobial actions to support gut immune function and microbiota balance (13). The butyric acid in ghee acts as a fuel source for intestinal cells, enhancing gut barrier integrity (14). Ghee has also been found to potentially aid digestion and absorption of fat soluble vitamins (15).

In lactose intolerance, the lactase enzyme must break down lactose sugar in dairy products. Ghee contains negligible lactose due to removal of milk solids and may be better tolerated by lactose intolerant individuals than butter. However, those with dairy allergy must still exercise caution.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Ghee exhibits an anti-inflammatory activity measured by reduced biomarkers like CRP, TNF-α, IL-6 and arachidonic acid (16). The conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids in ghee suppress inflammatory responses which could have beneficial effects for arthritis, autoimmunity, asthma and cardiovascular health (17).

Ghee’s anti-inflammatory properties may also help in healing and repair of tissues based on wound healing trials. Daily topical application reduced wound size significantly better than olive oil (18). This demonstrates potential for ghee in burns, infections, bedsores and surgical wounds.

Anti-Carcinogenic Properties

Some components in ghee exhibit anti-cancer actions in preliminary research. Conjugated linoleic acid demonstrates cytotoxic effects on breast, prostate and colorectal cancer cell lines (19). Sphingolipids like butyrate inhibit tumour growth by inducing apoptosis and cell cycle arrest (20). However, high intakes raising total fat and exposure to potential contaminants during production are concerns warranting caution. Human trials are lacking to truly evaluate ghee’s chemo-preventive potential.

Possible Adverse Effects

  • Weight gain if consumed in excess as ghee is high in total fat and calories.
  • Interacts with certain medications like statins and blood thinners.
  • Milk protein allergy. Though ghee contains negligible lactose, some milk proteins may still be present.
  • High doses in pregnancy not recommended due to retinol toxicity.
  • Potential contaminants if improperly prepared from unpasteurized butter.
  • Advised to consume in moderation to avoid adverse effects.

Areas for Future Research

Despite potential benefits, some caveats exist in the current research on ghee. There is still a lack of long term randomized controlled trials on ghee consumption and health outcomes. Many studies are small or have methodological limitations. Well-designed trials are needed, especially pertaining to weight loss, metabolic disease, and impacts in different populations.


In summary, ghee provides a nourishing source of fatty acids, vitamins and other nutrients that can support various aspects of health when consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Combining the evidence from modern research with the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda can help guide optimal usage of ghee to improve digestion, heart health and wellbeing. Further high quality clinical studies are warranted to truly substantiate these benefits across populations.


  1. Lad V. Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing. Lotus Press; 1985.
  2. Sharma H, Zhang X, Dwivedi C. The effect of ghee (clarified butter) on serum lipid levels and microsomal lipid peroxidation. Ayu. 2010;31(2):134-40.
  3. Dilzer A, Park Y. Implication of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in human health. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2012;52(6):488-513.
  4. Kumar MV, Sambaiah K, Lokesh BR. Hypocholesterolemic effect of anhydrous milk fat ghee is mediated by increasing the secretion of biliary lipids. J Nutr Biochem. 2000 ;11(2):69-75.
  5. McCarron DA, Reusser ME. Finding consensus in the dietary calcium-blood pressure debate. J Am Coll Nutr. 1999;18(5 Suppl):398S-405S.
  6. Hamer HM, Jonkers D, Venema K. Review article: the role of butyrate on colonic function. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2008;27(2):104-19.
  7. Sharma H, Zhang X, Dwivedi C. The effect of ghee (clarified butter) on serum lipid levels and microsomal lipid peroxidation. Ayu. 2010;31(2):134-40.
  8. Pimpin L, Wu JH, Haskelberg H. Is butter back? A systematic review and meta-analysis of butter consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and total mortality. PLoS One. 2016;11(6):e0158118.
  9. Krishna GG, Pallavi G. Effect of dietary ghee – the anhydrous milk fat, on blood and liver lipids in rats. J Nutr Biochem. 2003 ;14(2):68-74.
  10. Lundgren HL, Reynisdottir S, Dooper MM, Titi L, Stenblom EL, Helmersson Jönlid U, Arvidsson Trybala E, Kämpe O, Erlanson-Albertsson C. Gastric Bypass Surgery Is Followed by Lowered Blood Pressure and Increased Diuresis – Long Term Effects on Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone System in Obesity. PLoS One. 2016;11(11):e0166272.
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