close-up photo of cheese pizza slice

Cheese Addiction: Has Casomorphin Turned You Into a Fat Pig?

Ask any vegan which food they miss the most. For the vast majority, the answer will not involve beef, chicken, or any other type of meat.

Most likely, the response you get will involve some dairy-based food, if not all of them.

While there hasn’t been any scientific polling published which addresses this question, we can tell you that after years of discussions with vegetarians, they cite dairy – particularly cheese – as the number one reason they can’t go full out vegan.

It’s just too addictive to give up. Can this be explained by science?

Two of us here at Superfoodly are nearly decade long vegans, with one being vegetarian before that, since age four. That was his own decision, after his preschool teacher told the class about cholesterol, albeit in simple words. Everyone else in his Midwest family ate meat and lots of it.

Ever since, he never gave a second thought as to eating meat, but it’s the opposite with dairy since going full-blown vegan. He literally has dreams about cheese pizza on occassion, no joke. Even though he hasn’t ate it in nearly a decade!

large cheese platter
Heaven on earth?

If there’s a Little Caesar’s or Domino’s commercial on TV, you will often see him hit rewind to watch it again.

It’s food porn, where the experience is only vicarious. He has never, nor will he, eat it again since going vegan. Yet drooling at it is a bad habit he just can’t seem to break.

Call it a permanent withdrawal symptom he will never overcome.

The funny thing is that the actual science of what milk contains totally grosses him out.

Yet as disgusting as it is, the “fix” it gave him growing up seems to have left a permanent impression on his brain. In his own words:

“I was on Oxycontin ‘round the clock for several months following a severe car accident as a teen. Once I was healed, I chose to stop the painkiller cold turkey without any substitutes, not even Tylenol due to liver and kidney concerns. Stopping that was easy in comparison to ending my addiction to cheese. The side effects of the missing opioid only lasted a few days, but the high I got from cheese is still ingrained in my mind nearly a decade later and I’m reminded of it almost daily.”

deep dish cheese pizzaThankfully, he was able to break the cheddar and mozzarella madness. If he failed, he probably would have wound up morbidly obese as an adult, given that he previously ate an entire L or XL cheese pizza for dinner multiple times per week.

The other nights? A huge casserole dish of mac ‘n cheese from grandma, or he would make 4-8 grilled cheese sandwiches per meal (with mountains of butter, too). He just couldn’t control himself.

As far as sugar was concerned, he could not have cared less about that white powder. He only craved the foods made from a substance for infants.

Instead of having his 6% body fat and 6 pack abs, he probably would be on My 600-lb Life right about now, if it wasn’t for successfully breaking a cheese addiction.

The improvement in his asthma and post-nasal drip since going drugdairy free has been like night and day.

Is cheese addiction real?

mother breastfeedingIs he just being delusional, or is it possible to be addicted to milk?

Species survival depends on a close maternal bond between infant and mother.

What better way to strengthen that relationship than with a chemical bond during breastfeeding.

Yes, that chemical is for real, it’s not a myth (1).

What do you call an addiction to cheese? While there is no official term, the word often used is casomorphin. That is the name for the compounds which many believe is the culprit.

What is casomorphin?

Bodybuilders love whey, but only about 20% of the protein in cow milk is in that form. The other 80% is casein (2).

chemical structure of cow β-casomorphin 7 molecule
β-casomorphin 7 is one type found in cow’s milk.

When casein is digested, it produces small protein fragments known as casomorphin. These fragments bind to the same receptors in the brain as opioid molecules do. Casomorphins were first discovered in 1981 by Dr. Eli Hazum and his colleagues. That same year, their findings were published in the AAAS Science journal and the title of the study was Morphine In Cow and Human Milk (3).

While unproven, some research has suggested that higher levels of ß-casomorphins might cause and/or worsen various medical conditions including sudden infant death syndrome “crib death” (4), allergy symptoms due to it being “a direct histamine releaser” (5), autism (6), type 1 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases (7), among others.

As with these diseases and disorders, the precise understanding of how casomorphine may influence the human brain is not well understood and remains largely unknown.

While some animal studies have been done, to date there have been zero human clinical trials to evaluate the potentially addictive properties, and if they’re contributing to weight gain.

In fact, if you search the nearly 30 million entries in NIH’s PubMed database, you will find only 3 clinical trials containing the word casomorphin:

“Effects of milk containing only A2 beta casein versus milk containing both A1 and A2 beta casein proteins on gastrointestinal physiology, symptoms of discomfort, and cognitive behavior of people with self-reported intolerance to traditional cows’ milk.”

Year: 2016

Cow milk contains both A1 and A2 beta casein. A1 results in the peptide ß-casomorphin-7, which these researchers concluded “was associated with increased gastrointestinal inflammation, worsening of PD3 symptoms, delayed transit, and decreased cognitive processing speed and accuracy” (8) (9).

“Comparative effects of A1 versus A2 beta-casein on gastrointestinal measures: a blinded randomised cross-over pilot study.”

Year: 2014

The gastrointestinal effects of A1 beta-casein (and its release of beta-casomorphin-7) were studied in 41 men and women, in this double-blind and randomized study. After a 2-week dairy free washout period (where rice milk was used), participants consumed 750 ml/day of one type of dairy milk (two were used). The conclusion suggested differences were seen in the GI responses of some people (10).

“Effects of oral casokefamide on plasma levels, tolerance, and intestinal transit in man.”

Year: 2000

Dairy clogging you up? That might be a good thing, but only if you’re trying to stop diarrhea. This study looked at food-derived opioid peptides in 10 healthy males and the effects they had on digestive transit time. The researchers said “Orally applied casokefamide is well tolerated and may represent a useful tool for treatment of diarrhea in the future” (11).

Nothing here suggests positive health benefits. Unless perhaps you’re dealing with a diarrhea disaster.

bacteria and fungus in petri dishUsing it as a treatment for diarrhea is ironic, considering that most food poisoning like E. coli, Salmonella, and others originate from eating animal-derived foods or being contaminated by them.

Even when you hear about a veggie like spinach being responsible, the livestock are often to blame according to the CDC; “surface runoff from grazing areas onto cultivated fields” (12). Their poop and pee contaminates the produce growing nearby.

So without human clinical trials to evaluate casomorphin in milk, what does the research so far suggest about it?

Turning elsewhere for clues may help. Research involving camel milk suggests that its different protein profile vs. cow milk may explain its purported benefit for autistic children.

But what about non-autistic average Joes and Janes. How is it affecting us?

While it doesn’t prove casomorpin is the culprit, a study conducted by the University of Michigan and published in 2015 found that pizza is the #1 most addictive food (13).

In Dr. Neal Barnard’s book, Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings, this is his definition:

“… casein, that breaks apart during digestion to release a whole host of opiates, called casomorphins. A cup of cow’s milk contains about 6 grams of casein. Skim milk contains a bit more, and casein is concentrated in the production of cheese.”

How concentrated are we talking?

“A one-ounce slice of cheese holds about 5 grams of casein, and each one of those grams holds millions of individual casein molecules.”

How powerful is its effect on the human brain?

“One of them, a short string made up of just five amino acids, has about one-tenth the pain-killing potency of morphine.”

What are they doing in there in the first place?

“…the opiates from the mother’s milk produce a calming effect on the infant and, in fact, may be responsible for a good measure of the mother-infant bond.”

Aside from the known reasons, what he says a couple sentences later might be another reason why dairy can cause constipation.

“Like heroin or codeine, casomorphins slow intestinal movements and have a decided antidiarrheal effect.”

Milk vs. the muenster

block of brie cheeseIt’s interesting to hear that just a one 1-ounce slice has about the same amount as an entire glass of milk. By weight, your average cheese may have 7 times the casein content as milk, if not more (14) (15).

How many ounces are on a pizza? Even a small or medium may have 7 to 10 ounces on top. That’s for regular, not double cheese or deep dish.

Considering these things, it would make total sense as to why this is the food of choice for those with a milk addiction. Superfoodly’s in-house former addict echoes this sentiment:

“Actually, I always hated the flavor of milk and those disgusting phlegmy bubbles. Terrible taste aside, it just didn’t do it for me, compared to how I got high off cheese.”

He and many addicts claim that casomorphin withdrawal symptoms are real. Not the side effects of nausea, delirium or depression that drug withdrawal can cause. Rather, it is that intense yearning for this specific type of food. Going a day without it is hard enough, not eating cheese for a week is completely unfathomable to many.

Skeptics forget that we can have different strengths and weaknesses.

The former dairy addict here has never had much of a desire for alcohol and may go several months between drinks. Even then, he’s not motivated enough to actually buy one. Not even during happy hour.

It has to be a freebie at a social event, but even that is unlikely to solicit a yes. We have seen him say no to free wines and champagnes that cost hundreds – sometimes thousands – per bottle.

drunk manJust like how the idea of having zero desire for a drink is laughable to an alcoholic, the so called natural morphine in cheese may affect some brains much differently than others.

Maybe it’s only a tiny percentage of the population who gets a rush off milk products?

However to at least some degree, it seems a large chunk of the population is affected.

Research conducted by Columbia University over 6 years found that more men were willing to give up oral sex than cheese.

Yes, it was unscientific polling, but still that’s six years of graduating college students we’re talking about here (16). It was not the polling of low libido folks in a nursing home.

Is cheese making you fat?

woman standing on body scale that reads WTFThe average American now consumes a whopping 34 pounds of cheese per year. That’s 300% the amount we consumed in 1970 (17). Is it just a coincidence that the rates of obesity have also skyrocketed in recent decades?

Even though human clinical trials to evaluate weight loss and gain in relation to casomorphin have not yet taken place, there is plenty of other evidence which strongly suggests that dairy foods are making you fat.

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of cheddar cheese clocks in at 457 calories and 38 grams of fat. No fiber of course, but lots of cholesterol – 112 mg (18).

Cottage cheese is only 220, but that has a lot of water content. Having more though doesn’t guarantee a lower amount, as ricotta is 428.

A harder variety like diced provolone is 463, Swiss is 519, brie is 481, feta is 396, shredded mozzarella is 336, and gruyere is 545.

Keep in mind those measurements are for shredded and cubed, which means a lot of air space.

When you have a literal cup – like a cup of melted Swiss – it’s an artery-busting 959 calories and 227 mg of cholesterol (19).

“I am addicted to string cheese” is what one reader told us. Well, for just 3.5 ounces of that stuff, she’s packing 280 to 300 calories.

Whatever your drug of choice is, hopefully you at least have one of those Rx discount cards for all that Lipitor you’re going to need. Meds for that mess coming out of your rear as a result, too.

Oh but wait, if you’re eating this stuff every day, you may have already hit your $12,000 yearly deductible. Because cholesterol may be just one of many ailments related to your diet.

Statistically, you are overweight.

Maybe even a fat pig, as some would describe it.

parody of Donald Trump at debate talking about Rosie O'Donnell and casomorphins

Based on an extensive study of 71,751 Americans by Loma Linda University:

“Strict vegetarians [vegans] were the only group with a mean BMI value (24.0 kg/m2) below the cut-offpoint (25.0 kg/m2) defining overweight status.”

On average, everyone else is fat (20).

Yes, there is a lot of unhealthy processed vegan food for sale today, but even with that junk, only 9.4% of vegans are obese.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians weigh less than meat eaters, but still have a higher prevalence of being overweight compared to those who are strictly plant-based. That suggests dairy has something to do with it.

However, eating both dairy AND meat was found to be the ultimate dietary disaster…

“Non vegetarians had the highest mean BMI values (28.7, SD 6.4) and the highest proportion of obese subjects (33.3%) when compared to any other dietary pattern.”

Omnivores are obese at 350% the rate of vegans.

The assumption of omnivores may be that those on plant-based diets are just eating salads, twigs, and berries like a bird. Nothing could be further from the truth and the statistics confirm that.

These marked differences in BMI are of particular interest given that total energy intakes [calories consumed] were similar between the dietary patterns whereas mean macronutrient composition and micronutrient intakes were markedly different between the dietary patterns. Some studies have suggested that the source and composition of dietary energy intake [calories] may affect body weight independent of total energy consumption and our findings are consistent with these observations.”

In short, having ripped abs and a defined jaw may have more to do with what you eat rather than how much.

The type of food – plant vs. animal – may play a role in your physique.

Logically that would make sense, given the high amounts of hormones in animal-derived foods (21).

Even if they’re organic, that just means no synthetic hormones were used. The animals themselves still have hormones raging throughout their body and bodily fluids [i.e. milk] in the same way humans do.

As published in the Oxford Journals’ Human Reproduction Update (22)

“The natural estrogen estradiol is at least 10,000-fold more potent than most identified environmental xenoestrogens, and the dietary exposure (from e.g. meat, dairy products and eggs) to the natural sex steroids is therefore highly relevant in the discussion of the impact of estrogens on human development and health.”

They discuss how “children are extremely sensitive to estradiol” and as a result, increased breast growth may result. In boys and men this is called gynecomastia.

cow breastfeeding baby calfRemember, the composition of milk is for newborns to grow as rapidly as possible. Great at that age, but not when you’re middle-age!

These days your growth is not vertical, it’s just a laterally expanding waistline.

Not only are we eating infant food as full grown adults, but we’re getting it from a completely different species. Up to 80% of protein in human breast milk is whey, while as little as 20% is casein (23).

As you will recall from above, that number is flip-flopped in cow’s milk – only 20% is whey and 80% is casein.

Remember, it’s the casein which produces casomorphins.

We’re not saying you should go back to sucking your mom’s nips. We’re saying you should grow up.

Breaking the addiction cycle

skull smoking cigaretteHere in LA, almost every other commercial on TV seems to be for these luxurious spa-like drug detox centers in Malibu.

They look like five star resorts and yes, insurance is accepted.

They treat drug and alcohol abuse, not people addicted to cottage cheese. Cream or string cheese addiction won’t get you in the door, either.

These “rehab facilities” should also cover casomorphin dairy addiction. All major PPO insurance should be accepted too, because it’s only fair that we should get to enjoy ocean view massages, yoga classes, and gourmet culinary delights at the expense of others… the non-addicts in the insurance pool who subsidize these luxury retreats for the alcoholics and others.

But until that happens, this is a battle you will have to wage on your own.

Yes, you can find a cheese addiction support group online, but you won’t find a Cheesaholics Anonymous meeting taking place in your local Kiwanis club.

So what can you use to motivate yourself to change? Whether your goal is to eat better, feel better, or look better… you won’t have to look far to find compelling motivators.

muscular man and womanWant to look good? That motivates women to do crazy things, like walking around in high heels and spending oodles of money on clothes, makeup, and more.

Men are just as guilty though. Gym memberships not for health, but primarily because they want big muscles. There’s also the clothes, cologne, and everything else they spend money on to attract others.

Plastic surgery? There’s something that both genders spend thousands on. Some procedures are tens of thousands.

With over 340,000 procedures per year, liposuction is the #1 cosmetic surgical procedure in the United States (24).

Whether it’s love handles or more defined muscles (because fat is covering them), data from the above study involving 71,751 people infers that a strict plant-based diet is the best way to get there by what you eat, statistically speaking.

Strict is the keyword to pay attention to.

ashtray with cigarette buttsYou can’t be a part-time smoker, unless you’re referencing the span of time between smoking breaks.

Alcoholics can’t have just one drink.

In the same way, this is one of those lifestyle changes you either should go all out for, or not do it at all.

Why? Because anytime the door is left open, you’re going to open it wider.

As long as you allow dairy in your diet – even if it’s minimal – you’re going to find excuses for having more of it. That’s guaranteed.

Whether it be the challenge of ordering at some restaurants, letting loose on vacation, or merely out of daily convenience, you will regularly find excuses to eat dairy a lot more often than what you had set out to do.

Only when you adapt the mindset that it is strictly never allowed, can you have the discipline to follow through on it 100% of the time. No matter how tempting that Papa John’s pizza looks on TV.

Unexpected health benefits

Aside from all the obvious perks that go along with having a healthy weight – which includes more energy – the advantages may extend to diseases you weren’t expecting.

charts showing correlation between meat/dairy and cancer rates

Compare the amino acid profiles of plant vs. animal sources and how their consumption appears to play a role in many cases of cancer.

In particular, casein is considered the worst by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. He actually grew up on a dairy farm, milking cows until he was a graduate student at Cornell.

He was the biggest pro-dairy guy around.

That was until the overwhelming amount of evidence stacked up against him. His research was actually trying to prove the opposite – how good for you milk and dairy is. Yet, the scientific facts that were stacking up were just not going his way.

The tipping point was The China Study, which still to this day is the most comprehensive plant vs. animal dietary study ever done. Today it would be near impossible, since the world is now on a Western diet.

Breaking the Food Seduction (mentioned above) or How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger are two other good ones which show you how a healthier lifestyle is possible.

Waging the war won’t be easy, but you too can overcome your dairy addiction.