Naturally occurring opiate-like compounds containing casein fragments, which are commonly found in cow’s and goat milk protein. When casomorphins are consumed they attach to the same brain receptors as addictive drugs such as morphine and oxycodone. Once these compounds bind to opiate receptors in the brain, the brain releases dopamine to create a feeling of euphoria, and pleasure.
Cheese is made from milk, so it contains a higher concentration of casomorphins. One study found that soft cheeses such as brie contained more casomorphin than hard cheeses like cheddar. It takes about ten pounds of pasteurized cow’s milk to produce one pound of cheese, which is fermented by different types of bacteria to produce a condensed mixture containing large amounts of casomorphins and fats. The more cheese an individual consumes, the more casomorphins are produced, and the more difficult it becomes to stop eating it. This explains why cheese may be so addictive, and cause such strong cravings. Although the consumption of cheese does not have the same effect as other opiates, it can enter the bloodstream, bind with opiate receptors, and produce some noticeable effect with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
The good and the bad
Increased consumption of casomorphins has been linked to; brain disorders, respiration disorders, certain types of cancer, and autism. However, further studies suggest that casomorphins promote physiological mother-infant bonding, restful sleep, and gastrointestinal function due to the calming opioid effect. These affects can also be attributed to the presence of tryptophan in milk. Although there is no definitive way to measure the amount of casomorphins an individual might ingest on a day to day basis, researchers know that the variability of casomorphins in cheese is very high. The way the cheese is processed, stored and the individual’s genetics may affect the pleasurable and addictiveness we experience.
Could the way we feel when we eat cheese, lead us to refer to it as a comfort food?