The Case Against Casein

[grilled cheese sandwich]

For people who cope by eating the world, different emotional needs bring out different food cravings. Dr. Pretlow says:

The book, Life is Hard, Food is Easy, by Linda Spangle, notes that specific types of foods are preferred to ease sadness versus stress. Sweet, creamy, soothing foods (e.g. chocolate, ice cream, cheese) are preferred when sad or depressed, versus crunchy, chewy, action foods (e.g. chips, nuts, candy bars) when nervous or under tension.

Dr. Pretlow’s book Overweight: What Kids Say includes quotations from many young people about their struggles with food. Here are three brief excerpts concerning cheese:

(from a 14-year-old)
If im posting things on here im obviously bored and sad, i was just about to make cheese nachos…

(from an 18-year-old)
i’m afflicted with emotional eating!!! ever since 12 years old, every time im stressed out or feeling down, uncool, i start eating… i cant deal with myself – deep into the binge of cheese, peanut butter and cookies.

(from a 20-year-old)
I used to eat cubes of cheese and drink milk in the afternoon… no more.

Comedian Jen Kirkman talks about a cheese addiction that blossomed after a certain event, adding 30 pounds to her frame:

Everyone said to me the same thing when I gained all my weight, they were like, ‘Well, it’s just ’cause you got married, you’re a newlywed and you’re happy, that’s why you gained the weight.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I thought I gained the weight because every night I sit in front of the TV eating a block of cheese with my bare hands like it’s a sandwich.’

Cheese has a venerable history and a reputation for being a natural food, which it almost is. A lot of processing goes into the making of cheese, but relative to some other foodstuffs, it’s no big deal. There is nothing wrong with ingesting protein and calcium. The thing is, cheese also contains a substance called casein.

Starre Vartan once asked Amy Lanou of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) about what happens when casein gets inside the human body, and the ancient reason for it:

‘Caseins convert to casomorphines, which are chemically similar to morphine, when they break down during digestion. It’s these casomorphines that are addictive. All mammalian mothers’ milk contains casomorphines so that the young will return to the breast for milk.’ Since we are the only mammal that regularly drinks the milk of other animals, Lanou posits that it’s this process that’s behind humanity’s affection for cheese.

Comfort food, indeed! The PCRM researchers were moved to look into this question by the results of a study in which 59 women switched to a strict vegan diet. When queried about the food from the meat and dairy categories that they missed most, the majority of them named cheese. Dr. Neal Barnard wrote extensively about casein in relation to naloxene, the opiate-blocking drug used to treat overdoses of heroin and morphine. Patients who are given naloxene tend to experience greatly reduced cravings for cheese, as well as chocolate, sugar, meat, and other foodstuffs suspected of having addictive qualities.

Stephen Lau explains the potency of cheese cravings as resulting from the amounts of casein in this “concentrated protein with water and lactose sugar extracted.” When processed in this way, it’s like the difference between the benign effects of coca leaves plucked from a bush, and the devastating effect of the same chemical when highly concentrated, as in crack cocaine.

Casein is present in lesser amounts in milk, butter, and ice cream, as we would expect, and is also introduced into a wide variety of processed foods because of its “functional” properties, like the ability to improve foaming, whipping, emulsifiying, and tenderizing. Dan Mahony put together an array of links to resources that have something to say about casein, including one that lists a dismaying number of items that contain casein.

There are also links to sources describing evidence that casein makes lab animals and humans want to eat more of everything. One study found that, astonishingly, some people find cheese addiction even more difficult to break free of than nicotine addiction.

More unwelcome news — studies have indicted casein in relation to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autism, schizophrenia, depression, arthritis, migraine, abnormal cell growth and cancer, especially of the prostate. But that’s not all — other researchers have found connections with high blood pressure, malabsorption of vitamin D, testosterone overproduction, and even pet obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Joke of the Day,”, 05/03/11
Source: “Just like cheese? Avoiding ‘addiction’ with dairy-free alternatives,”, 2004
Source: “Breaking the Food Seduction,”, 2003
Source: “Why are you Addicted to Cheese?”, 02/22/08
Source: “Is Casein A Hidden Cause of Obesity and Diabetes?”, undated
Image by Maggie Hoffman

One Response

  1. “Caseins convert to casomorphines, which are chemically similar to morphine, when they break down during digestion. It’s these casomorphines that are addictive.”

    I had absolutely no idea. That is fascinating!

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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