KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Although many consider foie gras to be a tasty delicacy, a new study has found the risk of a dangerous protein found in the enlarged goose or duck liver may not be worth the indulgence.
The University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine study found a protein, related to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and tuberculosis, in laboratory mice after they were force-fed a protein extract from foie gras.
Amyloidosis is a disease process involving the deposit of normal or mutated proteins, called amyloids, that have become misfolded. In this unstable state, these proteins form hair-like fibers known as fibrils that are deposited into vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas and brain. This process is related to many diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson's.
This experiment, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, marks the first implication that mice — or people — could spread amyloidosis.
The mice, genetically altered to be susceptible to diseases with amyloidosis, were fed foie gras for eight weeks. Researchers found that 62 percent of the mice formed deposits on vital organs including the heart, kidney, liver, pancreas and intestines.
Altered mice that were not fed foie gras did not form deposits at all until after a span of eight months.
Researchers noted that even if the implications of the experiment hold true for humans, only those with a high risk for amyloid-related diseases would be affected by foie gras.
Alan Solomon, the lead author on the paper and a specialist in amyloid-related disorders at the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine, explained that not everyone eating this delicacy is at risk.
"Eating foie gras probably won't cause a disease in someone who isn't genetically predisposed to it," Solomon said in a news release.
"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 with fibrils," Solomon recommended.
Although the kind of amyloid that researchers found in the foie gras is not exactly the same as that found in the brains of Alzheimer's victims, Solomon said that it remains to be seen whether the particular amyloid found in foie gras could still trigger other types of amyloid proteins.
Foie gras is already controversial because it involves pumping substantial amounts of feed down the esophagus of a duck or goose twice a day, in order to enlarge its liver.
The practice has been banned in the state of California as well as the city of Chicago.