I’ll have sharp cheddar, and hold the Natamycin, please. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that my hands sometimes break out after eating cheese dip, my cheeks turn bright red after an eye exam or when I use eye drops, and recently, I felt achy and uncomfortable for several days after eating shredded Parmesan cheese. Those sound like fairly random, unrelated events…are they?
I don’t like feeling tight, achy, antsy, itchy, or uncomfortable. I also don’t like looking like this photo that was taken after my last eye exam. I began to keep track of what happened just before I noticed these reactions. The emerging picture is, my system doesn’t like Polyene Antimycotics. And it’s not just my system. It seems my sister has been having similar reactions to the same list of products.
What are Polyene Antimycotics?
Polyene Antimycotics, also known as Polyene Antibiotics are a class of antimicrobial compounds that target fungi – think of them as antifungal agents. They are a subgroup of Macrolides which are natural products with a certain chemical makeup that fall in the Polyketide class. Polyene Antimycotics are most commonly derived from Streptomyces bacteria. Because they have antimicrobial or antibiotic properties, they are often used in pharmaceuticals.
What are they in?
Nystatin sold as Nilstat, Mycostatin, and Bio-Statin; and Amphotericin B sold as AmBisome, Amphocin, Amphotec, and Fungizone are examples of polyene class pharmaceuticals. Natamycin sometimes sold as Pimaricin, is another example. Natamycin is active against yeasts and molds.
Not only is Natamycin used to treat eye infections, it’s increasingly used to inhibit mold in cheese, yogurt, and bread in the US. It’s also used to preserve crops like oranges. I understand the economic benefit of increased shelf life for food corporations. Having once pulled out and bitten a moldy sandwich from my school lunch bag (thanks, Mom), I even understand the aesthetic benefit.
Nonetheless, for obvious reasons, I don’t want this substance in my food. Whole Foods agrees with me. Since 2003, they have not sold products containing Natamycin. Unfortunately, the World Health Organization and the FDA consider it safe. Current research is on their side, but I wonder whether the safety studies, as designed, would have determined there was a connection between my reaction and Natamycin? Maybe not, it took me a few years to figure it out.
Are we the only ones who experience detrimental effects?
Even if my sister and I are the only two people on earth experiencing adverse effects, that’s enough reason for me to make a choice contrary to what the research indicates. I’m not willing to endure the side effects I experience when I consume Natamycin even if it’s deemed “safe”. Based on the evidence, it’s still not healthy for me. Of course, I wonder whether my sister and I are only two among thousands who suffer effects, but haven’t yet made the connection to polyene ingestion. In time, we may find out.
In the meantime, I’ll be searching for new brands of cheese. Last week, two of my regular selections for over 15 years contained a new list of ingredients that included Natamycin. Not only was it listed as an ingredient, it was presented as a “natural” substance. While that’s technically true, it seems a bit misleading. I don’t think most people expect a natural product that’s also used as a pharmaceutical to be included in their food. I feel disappointed by that presentation and the fact that I must find new options, but I’m a dedicated label reader so at least I noticed this ingredient change before I consumed the cheese.
I am increasingly concerned about the possibility that the cheeses used by my favorite restaurants have also undergone this change. Without the advantage of seeing the label, I could easily accidentally ingest Natamycin.
On behalf of my sister, myself, and anyone else who may be detrimentally affected by polyenes, I’d like to say to* Kraft Heinz – owners of Kraft® Brand Cheese Products & Snack Trios, Nestlé – owners of Buitoni® Brand Products, Saputo – owners of Frigo® & Stella® Brand Products, and all other food companies out there: “I don’t want to have to say, hold the cheese. I just want to say, hold the Natamycin, please.” To the WHO and FDA, and researchers everywhere, “I hope you’ll investigate further.” To anyone whose very real reactions have been dismissed by a medical professional, “I’m so sorry. There’s nothing more discouraging and crazy-making.”
Luckily, it is easier than ever to share information that allows us to make better and better food choices. For that, I am grateful.
*This is not a comprehensive list. These companies also own other brands that may contain Natamycin and other companies may include it in their products as well. This list was compiled based on recent personal experience only. Please read the label before consuming any product.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”