Geese force-fed and then slaughtered for their livers may get their final revenge on people who favor the delicacy known as foie gras: It may transmit a little-known disease known as amyloidosis, researchers reported on Monday.
Tests on mice suggest the liver, popular in French cuisine which uses it to make paté de foie gras and other dishes, may cause the condition in animals that have a genetic susceptibility to such diseases, Alan Solomon of the University of Tennessee and colleagues reported.
That would suggest that amyloidosis can be transmitted via food in a way akin to brain diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, which can cause a rare version of mad cow disease in some people who eat affected meat products or brains.
Amyloidosis can affect various organ systems in the body, which accumulate damaging deposits of abnormal proteins known as amyloid. The heart, kidneys, nervous system and gastrointestinal tract are most often affected but amyloidosis can also cause a blood condition.
The researchers used mice genetically engineered to be susceptible to amyloidosis, which can be inherited.
“When such mice were injected with or fed amyloid extracted from foie gras, the animals developed extensive systemic pathological deposits,” Solomon’s team reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Sometimes Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is described as a type of amyloidosis as well.
Symptoms are often vague and range from fatigue and weight loss to swelling and kidney damage.
Like CJD, mad cow disease, scrapie and related diseases, amyloidosis is marked by abnormal protein fragments. In the case of CJD, the proteins are called prions.
“On this basis, we posit that this and perhaps other forms of amyloidosis may be transmissible, akin to the infectious nature of prion-related illnesses,” the researchers added.
“In addition to foie gras, meat derived from sheep and seemingly healthy cattle may represent other dietary sources of this material.”