Search results for cheese addiction (10)

June 24, 2017

Cheese addiction: the book

I missed this a couple of weeks ago when it came out, but Stuff has a pretty good story on the ‘cheese addiction’ question.

As long-time readers will know, there’s been a persistent story circulating in the media claiming that a University of Michigan study found cheese was addictive because of substances called casomorphins.  The story is always unsourced (or sourced only to another copy), and the researchers at the University of Michigan have pointed out that this isn’t remotely like what their research found. The difference now is that Dr Neal Barnard, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is fronting up. He’s written a book.

As the story on Stuff says (with added expert input), the cheese addiction claim doesn’t really stand up, but cheese is high in fat and there are things to not like about the dairy industry. And

While it’s not hard to pick holes in some of Barnard’s anti-cheese arguments, the book has good advice on what to eat instead

That could well be true but, as with paleo, you could find books that just give the recipes and leave out the scientifically-dubious propaganda.

October 22, 2016

Cheese addiction hoax again

Three more sites have fallen for the cheese addiction hoax

As you may remember, this story is very very loosely based on real research from the University of Michigan. However, the hoax version misrepresents which foods were most addictive and makes up an explanation based on the milk protein casein that isn’t mentioned in the real research at all.

The reason I’m calling this a hoax is that it wasn’t the fault of the researchers, their institution, or the journal, and it’s obvious to anyone who makes any attempt to scan the research paper that it doesn’t support the story. It isn’t an innocent mistake, and it isn’t a simple exaggeration like most misleading health science stories.

There’s a good post at Science News describing what was actually found.

June 19, 2016

Cheese addiction hoax again

Two more news sites have fallen for the cheese addiction story.

A recap for those who missed the earlier episodes:

  • There was a paper using the Yale Food Addiction Scale that evaluated a lot of foods for (alleged) addictiveness.
  • Pizza came top.
  • Someone (we don’t know who) pushed a story to various media sites saying the research had found cheese-based foods were the most addictive (false), and that this was because of milk protein fragments called casomorphins (which aren’t even mentioned in the research paper, as you can check for yourself, and which haven’t been shown to be addictive even in mice).
  • The people behind the research have disclaimed these weird interpretations of what they found. Here’s a detailed story



February 10, 2016

Cheese addiction yet again

So, for people just joining us, there is a story making the rounds of the world media that cheese is literally addictive because the protein casein stimulates the same brain receptors as opiates like heroin.

The story references research at the University of Michigan, which doesn’t show anything remotely related to the claims (according not just to me but to the lead researcher on the study). This isn’t anything subtle; there is not one word related to the casein story in the paper. The story is made up out of nothing; it’s not an exaggeration or misunderstanding.

This time the story is in GQ magazine. It references the December version (from the Standard), but adds some of the distinctively wrong details of earlier versions (“published in the US National Library of Medicine”)

If I were a science journalist, I think I’d be interested in who was pushing this story and how they’d fooled so many people.

December 20, 2015

Return of the cheese addiction beatup

Remember cheese addiction? It’s back (in the Independent)

Using the Yale Food Addiction Scale, designed to measure a person’s dependence on, scientists found that cheese is particularly potent because it contains casein. 

The substance, which is present in all dairy products, can trigger the brain’s opioid receptors which are linked to addiction.

This time there’s enough circumstantial evidence to track down the open-access research paper. It does not contain the word “casein” (or “casomorphin”).

The research paper does not make any assertions about cheese or dairy products and opioid receptors. In fact, it doesn’t single out cheese at all. It says

…we observed that highly processed foods with added levels of fat and/or refined carbohydrates (like white flour and sugar), were most likely to be associated with addictive-like eating behaviors

The cheese obsession in the media coverage is a complete fabrication. It would be interesting to know who’s behind it.


Update: the lead author, Erica Schulte is Not Happy with the cheese claim in this radio interview (at 17:30).

October 26, 2015

Cheese addiction follow-up

On Friday the Herald published a “cheese addiction” story and I handed out a reading assignment. Now you’ve had the long weekend to look things up, Stuff has come out with the story, so we can look at the warning signs in more detail.

The first hint is in the second sentence

A new study from the US National Library of Medicine..

The US National Library of Medicine is a library, like it says on the tin. It doesn’t conduct or publish research on food addiction any  more than the Auckland City Library wrote or published Into The River.  Unfortunately, the combination of no publisher and no author makes it hard to find the study.

Next we hear about the Yale Food Addiction Scale and foods that rated high

While pizza topped the food list, cheese was also ranked high because of an ingredient called casein, a protein found in all milk products. When it is digested, casein releases opiates called casomorphins. 

If you look up the Yale Food Addiction Scale, you find

Foods most notably identified by YFAS to cause food addiction were those high in fat and high in sugar.

That seems plausible, and it would explain pizza and cheese being on the list.  If the high rating was because of casein, you’d expect high ratings to be given to low-fat cheeses, but not to high-sugar foods, and that isn’t what has been found in the past with this scale.

You probably haven’t heard of casomorphins. I hadn’t. It turns out that quite a lot of small protein fragments stimulate opioid receptors to some extent (in a lab-bench setting). The ones from milk protein are called casomorphins. There are also some from gluten, some from soy protein, and some even from spinach.

So far there isn’t good evidence that any relevant quantity of these fragments would get into the human brain, or that they would have much effect there, but if they did, tofu would be as much a risk as cheese.

While we know the National Library of Medicine didn’t do the research, they do have an excellent search facility for research stored on their virtual shelves.  It doesn’t list any papers about both “Yale Food Addiction Scale” and either “casomorphin” or “casein”.

In any case the story changes right at the end

If a food item is more processed, it’s more likely to be associated with addictive eating behaviours.

If that’s true it would argue against casomorphins being the problem.

Although the full picture does take some work and some knowledge of biochemistry, you can tell in a few minutes with just Wikipedia that the attribution of the research is wrong and that the claims contradict previous uses of the Food Addiction Scale. In Friday’s Herald version you could also tell the story was being pushed by a lobby group rather than by the researchers.

October 11, 2016


  • A curriculum to help kids think critically about health claims has been developed — and is being evaluated in a randomised trial in Uganda (from Vox)
  • Someone else (the website Grub Street) has fallen for the cheese addiction hoax. I wrote here about how the story makes no sense.  There’s a post by SciCurious that includes an interview with one of the people behind the actual research, talking about how the story just isn’t supported by her work. We still don’t seem to know who is pushing the hoax version.
  • I was on RadioNZ’s Our Changing World, talking to Allison Ballance about means and medians
  • Using mathematics (or statistics) to help with art repair:  Ingrid Daubechies talks about her work.
  • From MBIE, an interactive map of NZ tourist numbers

This has been an urban legend in the UK — it’s true in Melbourne, though mostly because the Mt Waverley reservoir is a small storage buffer rather than main storage

May 9, 2016

What’s wrong with science news

“Coffee today is like God in the Old Testament”, says John Oliver, reviewing the positive and negative headlines over the past year or so.  It’s excellent, if a little overblown in places.

On a related note, another site has fallen for the ‘cheese addiction/casomorphin’ hoax that we’ve seen before a few times. This time it’s Pharmacy Times.

October 23, 2015

A little search goes a long way

The Herald has a story about cheese addiction, meant literally.

To understand why this is probably unreliable, try Wikipedia on the following terms or phrases from the story

Next, consider why Vegetarian Times is the primary source for a story purportedly about biochemistry.

November 3, 2016


  • Story about startup company claiming to tailor wine advice to your genome. “Their motto of ‘A little science and a lot of fun’ would be more accurately put as ‘No science and a lot of fun,’”
  • “US Broadband Providers Will Need Permission to Collect Private Data” from the New York Times. Providers get to see exactly what websites you visit and how many pages you read there.  And they know where you live and where you internet. Selling that information will now be opt-in.
  • Insurance firm Swiss Re thinks health insurance rates will soon be targeted using social media. But the heart-disease research they mention only looked at predicting the heart disease for county of residence — and even before Big Data insurance companies have known where you live.
  • Along the same lines, car insurance firm Admiral was planning to set rates for young drivers based on social media data. Facebook is Not Happy. But actually, this  looks more like AMI’s current advertising pitch “We treat young drivers like good drivers”.  You get people to sign up, and raise their rates if you find out they aren’t good drivers.
  • SMBC comic on survivor bias: “Nobody wants to read about the hero who left the farm and immediately got stabbed by highwaymen”
  • Insider trading involves misuse of “material, non-public information.” With predictive analytics, it gets much harder to decide what’s material and what’s non-public