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Jun 23, 2004 12:01 PM

Cheese and Rosacea?

  • d

I have a friend who gets flare-ups of her Rosacea when she eats cheese. The weird thing is she says "fresh" cheeses don't bother her. She eats fresh mozzerella and some fresh goat cheeses.

On her honeymoon in Italy, she ate cheese with abandon and had no outbreaks. Her dermatologist helpfully said it was due to being happy and stress-free, but I find that less than satisfying.

Has anyone had experience with this? Understand the link between aged cheeses and her reaction? My goal here (other than simple curiosity) is to figure out what cheeses I can reasonably offer her.


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  1. the exact same thing happens to me. i love cheese, but every time i eat it (even the tiniest amount), i get a spherical red flush on each cheek -- like some russian babushka doll. fresh mozzarella, ricotta, fromage blanc, and soft chevre don't do it to me. also, i become congested, and my eyes get puffy. the next day, i generally feel low-energy and a little stiff (depending upon the amount of cheese i consumed). i don't really have any digestive system upset, and i eat lots of yogurt, so i don't think its lactose intolerance in any classic sense. and then, sometimes it just doesn't happen -- and i can eat cheese with no negative reaction at all. also, this didn't happen when i was younger and more "unhealthy" in my diet (i used to eat way more meat, fried food, cured pork, and mortadella almost every day)

    i think i read somewhere that this has to do with dairy being somewhat toxic. (i should clarify here that i'm not talking about eating processed cheeses or kraft or anything -- shudder! -- i live down the block from murray's, the bane of my existence). consequently, i've been taking artichoke extract and other liver-detox herbal concoctions when i do indulge in cheese, but have observed little reduction of symptoms.

    i continue to eat cheese, but i'm a bit more moderate now.

    i also used to drink a lot, but don't really, anymore. however now, even when i have a sip of wine, i get those same awful red babushka circles. except sometimes i don't!

    2 Replies
    1. re: softserve

      Perhaps you are sensitve to mold?

      1. re: Twodales

        That's what I was going to say. I have a close friend who is extremely sensitive to mold, and therefore has a reaction to all aged or fermented foods. (No beer! No brie! No mushrooms! Oh, the humanity!) Small amounts are tolerated, but too much results in hives, and eventually the dreaded puffy face look.

    2. Sounds like yeast intolerance, sometimes called candida overgrowth syndrome. It can cause lots of allergic and inflammatory like symptoms. Lots of doctors think it's quackery, but there's a certain amount of anectdotal evidence out there that adopting a "yeast intolerance" diet can really help improve a variety of inflammatory conditions. There are some chinese medicine and holistic practitioners and osteopaths who are willing to consider this as a possibility-- if your friend can find one, it might be worth consulting one.

      I had always had tendency toward reddish-ness, rashes, migraines, acne, and always suffered from allergies, sinusitis, and arthritic type joint aches-- some of this went away when I started doing the atkins diet, since sugar feeds the yeast that is thought to cause the symptoms, but it all went away when I cut out yeast-bearing products like aged cheeses mushrooms and vinegar, after reading a chapter in Atkins' New Diet Revolution about food intolerances and related health problems. Other friends with migraines and exczema have had a similar improvement in symptom recurrence.

      There's a detox component to this diet and then it's believed you can work back up to a "tolerance" level on some of the suspect foods. Generally, you eliminate sugar, "white foods" that reduce easily to sugar, higher sugar fruits and vegs, and anything either fermented or fermentable. "The Candida Diet" available on Amazon gives a good plan about how to detox and then resume a "tolerance" level of eating, for those who aren't on a low carb diet. You know you've passed the tolerance threshold when the symptoms return.

      The fresh cheeses you've listed aren't verboten on (I think later stages of) the diet, because they haven't fermented. Fresh ricotta with garlic and herbs would also be a nice choice. Whipped goat cheese with various chopped flavorings (olives, dried tomatoes, etc.) can also work.

      Some people are more or less sensitive, and find that eating a yogurt with active cultures a day keeps things under control. I pop a supplement called "multidophilus," which is a combination of acidophilus, bifidus, and other live cultures daily, and an extra one when I "cheat," and it seems to keep symptoms under control.

      Feel free to email me more offline if you or your friend are curious.

      1. Aged cheeses (and red wines) have relatively high levels of a compound called tyramine. In folks that are sensitive to tyramine, it can precipitate a histamine-mediated immune reaction which can cause blood vessel dilation (redness) and headaches. The blood vessel dilation can cause worsening of the dermatologic symptoms of rosacea. "Fresh" cheese has little tyramine.

        That's my best guess anyways.

        2 Replies
        1. re: chococat

          I'm definitely casting my vote for chococat's tyramine hypothesis, though not necessarily for the proposed mechanism. I mean, I don't think that rosacea is very well understood, and it's not exactly clear why different people have different triggers. However, tyramine is certainly a vasoactive amine, that would seem easily able to be responsible for the perturbed vasomotor changes that occur in rosacea. And I can't think of another suspicious substance that would be present in aged cheese but not young cheese.

          The only thing is, tyramine is a vasoconstrictor, not a vasodilator. It's an indirectly acting sympathomimetic that causes blood vessels to constrict, not to dilate. The theory with tyramine-induced headaches is that, following the tyramine-induced vasoconstriction, there's a subsequent overcompensatory dilation of blood vessels inside the skull, which is responsible for the headache. I would think that, in some rosacea sufferers, the same thing could happen to the blood vessels in the face, which could be responsible for the flushing. I don't think that histamine is involved in this, although I could be wrong.

          As for why this wouldn't happen while one's honeymooning in Italy, I agree with the dermatologist that it's due to being in a different emotional state. Emotional factors are the second most commonly cited trigger of rosacea attacks (see link below), so it's very reasonable that one's rosacea would be under better control while happily honeymooning.

          Unfortunately, I guess this doesn't necessarily offer much help with respect to which cheeses are safe -- aged cheeses would be the most likely to cause problems, and you already knew that. I suppose one approach would be to experiment with cheeses that are known to have low tyramine content. I'd start by looking into information prepared for people who are taking MAO inhibitors (a certain class of antidepressant), because they have to be very careful about tyramine intake. These drugs are very rarely used nowadays, but there's probably some information around.

          I wonder if the original poster's sister has the same problems with other high-tyramine foods, like red wine? I think aged cheeses have by far the most tyramine, but again I could be wrong...


          1. re: Caseophile

            I don't think she has any trouble with red wine. The only other thing I've ever heard her mention as a trigger are facials.

            Thanks for all the info. I'll try to look up low-tyramine cheese.

        2. tell your friend that sells the best product I've ever used for rosacea - It's called Cool Calm and Corrected, it's pricey, but it works. My skin improved significantly once I started using it.