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Is cheese bad like milk is for singing voices?
September 17, 2009 3:06 PM   Subscribe

It is well-known that opera singers don't drink much milk because it makes phlegm and affects their voices, but what about cheese? Does that cause phlegm?
posted by Quillcards to Media & Arts (14 answers total)
Certainly does for me. Not a singer, but my speaking voice gets thick and phlegmy almost immediately after eating pizza with provolone cheese on it.
posted by katemonster at 3:12 PM on September 17, 2009

Actually, dairy doesn't cause production of mucous.

Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 24, No. 90006, 547S-555S (2005)
Am Rev Respir Dis. 1990 Feb;141(2):352-6.
Appetite. 1993 Feb;20(1):61-70.
posted by Sophie1 at 3:26 PM on September 17, 2009 [8 favorites]

Good answer Sophie. I love to see papers cited rather than just web sites and opinion.
posted by Fiery Jack at 3:44 PM on September 17, 2009

I feel like it's worth pointing out that singers in general tend to be rather hyper-sensitive to things they feel might affect their performance. If you looked at the pre-performance rituals of many singers, you'd find a vast range of things they absolutely must have before singing (lukewarm tea with honey, tea tree oil, half an hour solitude, etc.) and things they absolutely avoid (milk, orange juice, sex, etc.). There might be some legitimate reasons behind the things they do, but there's also a whole lot of superstition too. Opera singers frequently get singled out as being especially picky/"sensitive", but I do know that there are plenty of opera singers out there who do drink milk while still caring for their voices.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:50 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks Fiery Jack. I'm a researcher. Nothing stands without at least a citation or two.
posted by Sophie1 at 4:41 PM on September 17, 2009

Dairy doesn't cause mucus, per se, but it does coat your throat with a creamy lining of "I can't sing properly through that". So does cheese. I don't know the science, but I do know singing.

Cite that.
posted by Aquaman at 4:53 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I looked up Journal of the American College of Nutrition and I found but can't find the specific articles.

By way of background to the question I posted, I am not a professional singer but, sometimes when I have a latte I bring up a mucus in my throat for a day or more.

There may be some other linking factor in my genes or immune system that has to be present, without which no mucus is formed, but for me there is a link between milk and mucus, but I don't notice the problem with cheese.
posted by Quillcards at 5:19 PM on September 17, 2009

You might personally be sensitive to milk and not cheese--it's not unusual for people to have more sensitivity to milk than to cheese.

Although singers describe the "drinking milk causing thickened feeling in the throat" thing as "mucus", it's probably actually cow's milk sensitivity triggering gastric reflux, because dairy doesn't produce mucus. Presumably, the reason that's tagged as "mucus" is because it feels very similar to post-nasal drip.

Many, many singers are diagnosed with gastric reflux--I don't know if that's because singers are more prone to it, or if it's because singers notice the effects at lower levels of tolerance (the "thickened throat" feeling, which people who don't have to sing might just shrug off).
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:56 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's true that many singers think this, but evidence shows that it's a kind of confirmation bias. My personal opinion is that when there are milk solids remaining in your oropharynx it's easier to see your saliva, so you think it's thicker.

I'm speaking as a singer and a medical-type person.
posted by reflecked at 6:37 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am a singer, and I don't know if you call it phlegm or what -- any sort of food before singing causes the same thing, dairy just seems to be particularly egregious -- but I get the same feeling in my throat when I eat cheese as when I eat milk. When I've had to do anything serious, like a performance or recording, I just don't eat anything the entire day and drink only water. Not everyone needs or wants to do that sort of thing, and to do it regularly would be pretty silly.

If you're concerned about this for some non-singing related reason, don't be concerned -- as the other comments have pointed out, there doesn't even seem to be a consensus on what exactly causes the sensation or if it's just in one's head or not. If you're concerned about it because you're a singer or want to be a singer, just try eating cheese and see if you think it affects your performance or gives you an uncomfortable feeling or whatever. If it doesn't, don't sweat it. If it does, or other things do, then do whatever you want. I regularly sing with that vague thick feeling in my throat. Ain't no thang.

Haha, sorry to be so flippant about it, but it's really not a big deal and varies from person to person.
posted by Nattie at 7:09 PM on September 17, 2009

Here's Sophie's articles with links:

Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 24, No. 90006, 547S-555S (2005)

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1990 Feb;141(2):352-6.

Appetite. 1993 Feb;20(1):61-70.

You might need to find someone with better journal access than mine to find full text for the last two.

Do you get increased mucus every single time you drink milk or anything with milk in it? Like with rigourous records and preferably blinded testing? Because "sometimes I notice..." is pretty standard confirmation bias.
posted by shelleycat at 7:12 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm mildly lactose intolerant, and with that (for me, anyway) comes an uncontrollable phlegmy-coughing and throat-clearing for about thirty minutes after I've eaten any dairy product including cheese. It's reliable enough that I can tell when something I've eaten is made with dairy even if it wasn't apparent when I first saw the food. Popping a Lactaid pill before I eat something I know is dairy-based fixes the problem.

I don't know if it's mucous or whatever, but the best way to describe the cough is definitely "phlegmy". (yum.)
posted by olinerd at 4:30 AM on September 18, 2009

Reflecked and Shelleycat

I had not heard the term 'confirmation bias' before, .

Yes, it's possible, and you are right Shelleycat to pick up on my comment that it is only sometimes that I notice it.

I read the abstract and thank you.

Olinerd, a Lactaid pill sounds exotic - I have an image of someone overdosing on them and clearing all the fat globules out of their body ...

This has been an education.
posted by Quillcards at 3:15 PM on September 18, 2009

For what it's worth lactaid contains lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose (the sugar found in milk, it's not a fat), and only lactose. And lactose is only found in milk. So if you take lactaid when you don't need it then it just passes through you without doing anything. So you should be OK to try it if you think it would help.
posted by shelleycat at 4:45 PM on September 18, 2009

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