Cheese, dreams and drugs

A common belief says that eating cheese causes vivid dreams or nightmares. However, I couldn’t find any support for the idea in the scientific literature except for one bizarre case study.

Although the case report really tells us nothing about the link between cheese and dreaming, it’s lovely to read because it’s from a bygone day where doctors could write into medical journals with their strange and idiosyncratic observations.

From a 1964 edition of the British Medical Journal:

I have lately seen a patient with moderate essential hypertension who because of various side-effects with other drugs was changed to pargyline, 25 mg every morning; this gave satisfactory control and within a fortnight the patient volunteered that he felt much less depressed, but was having nightmares.

Inquiry produced the fact that he habitually ate one or two ounces (30-60 g) of Cheddar cheese with his supper every evening. The nightmares were of a horrifying nature, and curiously they were concerned not with his immediate family or friends but with people such as his workmates, with whom he was not in any particular emotional relationship. He dreamt of one, terribly mutilated, hanging from a meat-hook. Another he dreamt of falling into a bottomless abyss. When cheese was withdrawn from his diet the nightmares ceased.

I am, etc. J. CHARLES SHEE, Bulawayo, S. Rhodesia.

The mentioned drug, pargyline, as well as being used for hypertension is in the same class of drugs more commonly used as antidepressants.

These are monoamine oxidase B inhibitors (MAOIs) which prevent the breakdown of the monoamine neurotransmitters serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine. However, they also prevent the breakdown of the chemical tyramine which occurs naturally in some foods, such as cheese, some soy bean products, processed meats and some fruit and nuts.

A build up of tyramine can cause an increase in blood pressure which can cause headaches, heart problems and increases the chance of stroke (blood vessel blockage or bleeds in the brain). Hence, people taking MAOI antidepressants have to avoid foods high in tyramine to prevent these potentially lethal side-effects.

Interestingly, the fact that the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was apparently avoiding similar foods led to internet rumours that he was on these antidepressants, which caused a media flap when the BBC questioned him about his mental health and use of “pills” to “get through”.

Link to PubMed entry for case study with full text option.

4 Comments

  1. bonkers
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Stilton blue has quite a rumour for vivid dreams.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stilton_%28cheese%29#Bizarre_dreams

    And high doses of B vit(250-500mg).

  2. Posted October 21, 2009 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    What about that British cheese board experiment (http://web.archive.org/web/20060115000115/http://www.cheeseboard.co.uk/news.cfm?page_id=240)? Or does that not count as “scientific”?

  3. Laura
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I have lately had some experience of possible ‘cheese-induced’ dreaming (or possibly just improved remembering of dreams). Over the past year or so I have very rarely remembered any dreams when I have woken up and I have also hardly ever had cheese i.e. only eaten a bit if it was on a pizza etc but not added it to anything or eaten chunks of it on its own (I sometimes seem to get headaches when I eat too much of it).
    However, I decided to get some cheese a few weeks ago to add to some of the meals I had planned and on each of the three nights in a row that I had eaten cheese with my lunch or dinner I woke the next morning vividly remembering my dreams. I was not consciously aware of the possible connection at the time, it was only something that I had thought of on the third morning.
    Since my block of cheese ran out I have not bought anymore and I also have not remembered my dreams…. maybe it just helped me sleep better, maybe it was coincidence. It might be hard to tell if I were to try eating more cheese again as
    I’d be consciously aware of the idea.

  4. Glen
    Posted July 16, 2011 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Creamy Havarti works for me… about 50-100 grams before bed, or a few hours before bed.

    Dreams are usually of a neutral nature, no serious nightmares.

    Thanks for the suggestion from ‘Bonkers’ will try it.


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