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- A group of doctors has petitioned the FDA to add a warning label to cheese, cautioning consumers that it contains hormones that may increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Cheese made from cow’s milk can contain reproductive and growth hormones that some research has linked to cancer risks.
- But other research has found that cheese is actually associated with health benefits, like a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. And it’s perfectly safe in moderation, a nutritionist told Insider.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
Cheddar, brie, mozzarella, or Gouda? Some doctors say your choice of cheese should be none at all, especially if you’re a woman.
The doctors, members of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to add a warning label to cheese made from cow’s milk, cautioning consumers that the hormones it contains may be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
The organization, which is dedicated to promoting health through plant-based nutrition and reducing consumption of animal products, submitted the petition October 3, the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Its 12,000 members cited research that high-fat cheese products are linked with up to 53% increase in breast cancer risk.
But overall, the research on the health impact of cheese is very mixed – a 2017 analysis of available evidence found that cheese is linked to no additional risk of death from heart disease or fatal illness of any kind, including cancer.
And, according to a nutritionist, it’s perfectly safe for most people to enjoy some cheese as part of a balanced diet, and it may even have some benefits.
Saturated fat and estrogenic hormones in cheese are linked to breast cancer risks
Breast cancer is the second most common cause of death for American woman, with more than 240,000 new cases and more than 40,000 deaths annually, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cheese is implicated in the problem because a lot of commercial dairy milk comes from cows treated with hormones, which can end up in the milk. The cheese-making process can concentrate some of these hormones like IGF-1, which research has linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
The saturated fat in most cheese is also believed to play a role, since studies have found that specifically high-fat dairy raises the risk of breast cancer mortality.
“Instead of cheese manufacturers slapping a pink ribbon on products as they have done during previous Breast Cancer Awareness Months, they should be adding warning labels,” Dr. Neal Barnard, the president of PCRM and author of “The Cheese Trap” and “Your Body in Balance,” said in a press release. “We want women to be aware that dairy cheese could put them at risk of dying from breast cancer.”
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But cheese (and other dairy) can still be part of a healthy diet
Low-fat dairy products may actually have health benefits, the petition notes, citing research that general dairy consumption is linked to a lower risk of cancer overall. Some eating patterns that include cheese like the Mediterranean diet are widely believed to be some of the healthiest in the world.
Even full-fat cheese can be completely safe in moderation, said nutritionist Keri Gans.
“There is no danger in cheese,” Gans said. “We can’t blame anything on one particular food, as much as we might like to. We need to look at a person’s total diet.”
She was skeptical of the research on hormones linked to breast cancer in cheese, explaining that the study had too many variables to conclusively point to cheese as the cause of cancer risks without controlling for other lifestyle and dietary factors.
“I’m not convinced and I’m not sure the consumer should be either,” she said.
Cheese does contain a lot of saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease risk, Gans added. But in that regard, moderation is key – most people will be just fine enjoying a serving of cheese, even every day, she said. More than two servings per day, over a long period time, may mean you’re getting too much saturated fat, however.
“Cheese can definitely be part of a person’s well-balanced diet,” Gans said. “The key word is ‘part.'”