A Healthy Reason To Forgo Foie Gras

This files picture dated 25 February 2004 shows a fois gras's store in Bourdeaux, in southern France. French Agriculture Minister Herve Gaymard said 17 October 2004 that the United States has lifted a ban imposed earlier this year on imports of the country's foie gras.
Getty Images/Michel Gangne
If the thought of force-fed fowl doesn't turn you off to foie gras, this news just might.

New research suggests that a compound found in fatty goose and duck liver may be linked to a rare disease called amyloidosis, opening the door to a potential link between the delicacy and a host of other amyloid-related diseases ranging from Alzheimer's disease to type-2 diabetes.

Researchers say it's the first known evidence that a food product can speed the production of amyloid protein in animals. An abnormal buildup of amyloid deposits is linked to a variety of diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, type-2 diabetes and others.

Amyloid is commonly found in waterfowl, but researchers say their concentration is especially high in force-fed birds, such as those used in the production of foie gras.

Their results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that feeding disease-prone mice a steady diet of foie gras accelerated the development of amyloidosis, with amyloid deposits found in many organ tissues.

"Eating foie gras probably won't cause a disease in someone who isn't genetically predisposed to it," says researcher Alan Solomon, M.D., of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, in a news release. "Perhaps people with a family history of Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or other amyloid-associated diseases should avoid consuming foie gras and other foods that may be contaminated."

Aside from suggesting a link between foie gras and disease, researchers say the results also raise the possibility that other prion or abnormal protein-related diseases like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease may be passed from affected animal food products to humans.

But researchers say these results are only preliminary, and more study is needed to definitively prove these links.

By Jennifer Warner
Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D.
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