Cheese. It makes us smile for the camera. It goes great with apple pie. It lures mice to their doom. It’s been around for at least 8,000 years. It’s linked to breast cancer. Wait, what? Cheese is linked to breast cancer?
That’s the advice the FDA is receiving from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). That nonprofit group, which is comprised of 12,000 medical professionals, has petitioned the FDA to require that the following warning be affixed to every package of dairy cheese sold in the United States:
“Dairy cheese contains reproductive hormones that may increase breast cancer mortality risk.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast cancer is diagnosed in about 245,000 American women (and about 2,200 American men) each year.
There appears little chance the FDA is going to heed the PCRM’s advice to require that warning. The FDA is generally reluctant to demand warning labels about risks associated with food and beverages. (California learned that lesson in 2018, when it tried to require a cancer warning on coffee).
What’s the risk of developing breast cancer by eating cheese?
There is substantial evidence to support the position advocated by the PCRM. That group’s petition to the FDA cites studies that do show a link between cheese and an increase in a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer.
One of those studies, entitled Life After Cancer Epidemiology, reviewed the cases of women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The researchers found that women who consumed one or more servings of high-fat dairy products (that category includes cheese, ice cream, and whole milk) daily had a 49% higher breast cancer mortality rate, as compared with those women who consumed less than one-half serving a day.
A breast cancer risk from cheese was uncovered in a 2017 study
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) petition also references a 2017 study funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) (h3)
The NCI researchers examined the dietary intakes of 1941 women with breast cancer and compared those diets to the menus of women without cancer. The results showed that those who consumed the most high-fat cheese had a 53% increased risk of breast cancer.
What’s the link between high-fat dairy food and the risk of breast cancer?
In order to promote growth and increase milk production, some dairy farmers inject their cows with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) as well as other hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.
High-fat dairy products contain residual traces of these substances. The PCRM believes that these residues may be implicated in the observed increased risks of breast cancer.
Cheese contains a lot of bad saturated fat
In addition to their potential link to breast cancer, high-fat dairy products are rich in saturated fats. Saturated fats are known to be major contributors to cardiovascular diseases. So, there’s more than one reason to turn down a fat wedge of delicious cheddar, and refrain from slathering that bagel with a thick swath of cream cheese.
Are there good non-dairy substitutes for cheese? Yes!
It would be clearly unfair to warn you about the risks of high-fat dairy products without providing at least some guidance toward substitutes that are both healthy and palatable.
In reviewing the source materials for this article, we noted that all the warnings about increased breast cancer risks are aimed solely at “dairy cheese”. That raises the question: is there such a thing as “non-dairy cheese”?
Is there a “best dairy free cheese”?
The early generations of dairy-free cheeses were pretty bad. The most palatable examples were rubbery and tasteless.
Subsequent research and development have produced some pretty tasty new non-dairy cheeses. Here’s a link to the discoveries of a confessed former cheese lover who rediscovered his cheese joy in the brave new world of non-dairy cheeses.
Let me know what you think! Thaïs
About Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi
As one of the nation’s leading obstetricians, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi offers the very best in gynecology and obstetrics care. Together with her warm professional team, Dr. Aliabadi supports women through all phases of life. She fosters a special one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor.
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