Why does eating cheese make us feel happy and wanting more?
This picture should go some way into explaining why we feel so happy eating cheese and we always go back for another chunk. Its name is beta-casomorphin 7 found in cow’s milk (the seven coming from the number of amino acids). It’s not only the delicious flavours that come from well-aged, fermented curd that cause us to beam when we chew on cheese or babies drink breast milk. There is now scientific understanding behind the smiles and infatuation.
These microscopic tribes of happiness are known as casomorphins. The name comes from the word casein, a protein found commonly in bovine milk (and in all other species’ milk) and morphine, the opioid best known for its pain relieving qualities, euphoria enducing experiences and its ability to dramatically reduce fear and anxiety. It is also highly addictive - heroin is very ‘moreish’.
It has been found in greater quantities in mouldy cheeses such as Brie and Chaource so if you’re feeling a bit down in the dumps, crack open the Camembert.
In hospitals the morphine used comes from poppies but cows don’t go around eating poppies most of the time. It appears that cows, via their livers, produce a number of opiates including codeine and morphine which find their way into the milk. Once the casein protein is split along its long chain of amino acids (this happens via the bacterial breakdown within our gut during digestion when we drink a glass of milk or eat a hunk of cheese) a variation of short-chain amino acids known as casomorphins are produced.
If anybody has ever had the pleasure of watching a tetchy, riled baby suddenly find themselves soothed, sedated and transported into a very different, peaceful lala land from a helping of mother’s milk, here’s one reason. The physical bond between mother and child is enormously important, not just for keeping the baby alive, but also for the psychological well-being of both parent and child.
There have been different opinions on just how much these casomorphins get into our adult system but cheese is by far and away the food with the greatest quantity of casein in and research has shown that the bloodstream receives these tiny morsels of casein about 30-45 minutes after ingestion. A baby’s digestive tract is much thinner than our adult system and therefore allows the transferral of these happy chappies quite willingly into the bloodstream. Most of the opioids stay in our adult gut and indirectly send messages from there to the brain. Some though, do make their way into the bloodstream. If you eat a decent sized lump of cheese, which to most people is not that difficult as it tastes so delicious, we find ourselves with more than enough casomorphins in our system to signal to our brain that this is something we want more of, again and again.
There are other compounds that have a drug-like effect found within cheese. One of them is phenylethylamine, or PEA, unique neurotransmitters related to amphetamines also released by chocolate and sausages! - Two other food stuffs we can’t get enough of.
Basically keep on eating cheese, sausages and chocolate and your life will be filled with joy and happiness. I certainly plan on feeding my baby solely with all three. Stuff pureed butternut squash ;)