Increased Cancer Risk with Red & Processed Meats
Many of our patients have been asking about the recent World Health Organization’s release on red meats and processed meats being linked to increased cancer risk. We work with patients regularly who have struggled with breast cancer in particular and other cancers as well. For those of you who are looking to understand these guidelines more closely, here is an overview of the WHO guidelines that will hopefully be helpful for you in making informed decisions on your health.
A review of published, peer-reviewed research has shown overwhelming evidence that red and processed meats can increase risk for many cancers, and in particular colorectal cancers. There seems to be an important threshold connected to consumption.
- Consuming more than 18 ounces of red meat per week is associated with highest risk. More moderate intake does not seem to increase risk. Red meats include: beef, lamb, and pork.
- However, eating processed meats at ANY level was associated with higher risk. Therefore it is recommended to avoid processed meats completely. Processed meats include: sausage, bacon, hot dogs, cold cuts, lunch meats.
Why do these meats increase health risk of cancer? Research suggests it is due to 3 compounds: the heme form of iron contained in red meats, nitrosamine compounds in red and processed meats, and heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are formed when heating or grilling red and processed meats at high temperatures. The heme form of iron in meats has been linked to damaging the lining of the colon as well has helping to form nitrosamines. Nitrosamine compounds are known carcinogens that can promote tumorigenesis, and HCAs as well as PAHs formed during cooking generate reactive oxygen species that can damage DNA leading to mutations capable of promoting cancer. In fact, inhalation of these compounds during the grilling, charring, and cooking process has even been linked to lung cancers.
If you are eating high amounts of red and processed meats, it is important to work towards adopting a healthier lifestyle more grounded in lean meats and plant based foods. Eating with the seasons can also help to reduce intake of processed meats and add variety of vegetables to your diet. If you are having trouble making these lifestyle changes get support. Speak with a nutritionist or dietician who can assess your current diet and make recommendations for a healthier lifestyle.
Call our office for more information or to speak with our Wellness Coordinator (512) 327-5337.