How Worried Should We Be About Cheese?
A physician group called the “Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine” released a report in October 2019 petitioning the FDA to add a warning label to cheese because it could increase breast cancer risk. Their argument is that cheese contains estrogen from cows that will disturb our human estrogen levels. Is this something we should be eliminating from our diet to reduce our breast cancer risk?
Dairy products include milk, yogurt and cheese and are common foods that many of us eat. They are a good source of protein and even probiotics. These foods provide us with many nutrients including calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin D that help our bones stay strong and can even help us regulate our blood pressure.
So, what about a possible effect on breast cancer risk? Can the estrogen in cheese increase risk of breast cancer? A 2017 study of 1,900 women found those who ate more dairy had a higher incidence of breast cancer, raising alarm. (McCann SE, Hays J, Baumgart CW, et al. Usual consumption of specific dairy foods is associated with breast cancer in the Roswell Park Cancer Institute Databank and BioRepository. Curr Dev Nutr. 2017. cdn.117.000422; DOI: https://doi.org/10.3945/cdn.117.000422.) However, association is not causation; just because some women who ate dairy foods developed breast cancer does not mean one caused the other. Although there are traces of cow estrogen in cheese, many studies have found that it does not affect human blood estrogen levels and have not shown an association between dairy and breast cancer risk. Dairy foods are considered safe to consume even if you are at risk for breast cancer. (For more information, read https://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/Table16Dairymilkconsumptionandbreastcancerrisk.html)
It is important to note that cheese is high in saturated fat and should be minimized or limited in a healthy diet. Consuming foods high in saturated fats can lead to excess calorie intake and weight gain, which is a known risk factor for breast cancer.
Low-fat dairy products including milk, yogurt and low-fat cheeses like mozzarella and feta provide all the health benefits of dairy products without the high saturated fat content. These foods are safe to eat and should be consumed as part of a cancer preventative diet.
It is important to follow a healthful diet and maintain your weight in a normal range to minimize cancer risk. Be cautious of over-consuming high-fat cheeses as it could contribute to weight gain, but consuming them in moderation should not increase breast cancer risk. Low-fat dairy products provide us with many beneficial nutrients and should be included in our everyday diet.
Determine your risk for breast cancer here.