Have you ever woken up from a bizarre dream and wondered, “Where on earth did that come from?” You know the ones, they usually make no sense, start in the middle and finish at the beginning, real Alice in Wonderland stuff. Mad Hatters and Queen of Hearts everywhere. Well, once you’ve shaken off the thoughts of possible insanity in your family, have you noticed these strange dreams and your last meal often have one thing in common. Cheese. Say what? Cheese? Really? Yes, really. In this age of the takeaway pizza, most of us will have experienced a cheese dream.
Never heard of it? Well, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens both noted the dream inducing effects of cheese in their novels and in 2005 the British Cheese Board funded a study to determine if cheese dreams were real or not. Two hundred participants were fed 20 grams of cheese in various varieties thirty minutes before bedtime. What did the study find? Well, if you’re a fan of blue Stilton you better cut back at night. Eighty percent of participants reported dreams of talking animals, vegetarian crocodiles and warrior kittens – in no paricular order. At the other end of the cheese dream spectrum, Cheshire cheese turned out to be a bit of a yawn, with less than half of the participants noticing anything weird.
Now if you’re curious as to how something so innocuous as cheese can be sending us off to the land of Oz, then guess what…it’s all about the chemicals. Cheese contains high levels of Trytophan, an amino acid that is a foundation compound for melatonin, a hormone heavily involved in a our sleep-wake cycle…and has been raised as a potential source for the cheese dream. Another candidate is the alkaloid Trytapmine, often produced by fungi – including the fungi used in making blue cheeses. This particular alkaloid is related to the more powerful hallucinogens found in ‘magic mushrooms’. However the cheese dream is still not fully explained – cured meats, egg-whites and soybeans also contain these particular compounds, but don’t have the same dreaming chutzpah as cheese, so it looks like more studies and late night pizzas will be needed to fully reveal the secrets of cheese and those strange goings on in our heads.
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