Cancer and Meat – the good, the bad, the ugly
Experts think that nearly 1 in 10 UK cancer cases could be prevented through healthy diets. We know that a balanced diet and hydrated body helps to maintain a healthy immune system which can itself reduce the risk of many cancers and other dreaded diseases.
Foods, such as red, processed meats and salt, increase the risk of developing cancer and other diseases. While other foods, such as fruits, vegetables and high fiber foods, can help prevent many diseases.
How do we know which foods lower or raise the risk of cancer?
Scientists are conducting large studies to see which specific foods may reduce the risk of cancer, and which could raise the risk. Many of these studies are still on going, including the EPIC study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition). The EPIC study is the largest study into diet and cancer to date, and it involves over 500,000 people from 10 European countries who have been followed for many years.
I will tell you about the “ugly, bad” meat foods that are linked to cancer risk by strong scientific evidence, but will start with the “good” foods.
How do fruit and vegetables reduce the risk of cancer?
Research suggests nearly 1 in 20 cancers in the UK may be linked to diets low in fruit and vegetables. Eating fruits and lots of vegetables has been linked to a lower risk of cancer.
As you know, fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre.
Fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of nutrients that have many different effects on the body. These nutrients include carotenoids, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, flavonoids and various other chemicals found in plants. These are linked to reduced cancer risk by doing things like:
- Mopping up harmful “bad” chemicals that could potentially damage DNA.
- Helping protect against DNA damage.
- Helping with repairing DNA.
- Blocking the formation of “bad” cancer-causing chemicals.
How does eating too much meat increase the risk of cancer?
Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and especially processed meat can increase the risk of cancer.
Red meat includes all fresh, minced and frozen beef, pork and lamb. The “bad” processed meat includes ham, bacon, salami and sausages. “Good” white meat, such as free range chicken and wild fish, is unlikely to increase the risk of cancer.
Scientists think there are several ways in which red and processed meat can increase the risk of cancer – these involve the chemicals found in these meats. Some chemicals are a natural part of the meat, others are fed to the animals, others are injected into the animals and finally, others are made when the meat is preserved or cooked at high temperatures.
Red and processed meat contains a red iron pigment called haem. This irritates or damages cells in the bowel or fuel the production of harmful chemicals by bacteria in the gut, which could lead to a higher risk of cancer. Almost all red and processed meats contain greater amounts of this iron than white meats. This may partly explain why red and processed meats increase cancer risk while white meats don’t.
Chemicals called nitrates and nitrites are often used to preserve processed meat. In the bowel nitrites, can be converted into cancer-causing chemicals called N-nitroso compounds (NOCs). The presence of these chemicals may explain why many studies have found that processed meat increases the risk of cancer.
Cooking meat at high temperatures such as grilling or barbecuing can produce bad cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic amines (PCAs).
The presence of these chemicals explains that meat cooked at high temperatures might increase the risk of bowel cancer than meat cooked at lower temperatures, such as boiling or braising.
How does eating fibre cut the risk of cancer?
Much research has shown that cancer is less common in people who eat lots of fibre. Fibre could help protect against bowel cancer in several ways.
Fibre increases the size of stools, dilutes their contents, and helps people have more frequent bowel movements. This reduces the contact time between the bowel and harmful chemicals in the stools. Fibre may also help gut bacteria produce helpful chemicals that change the conditions in the bowel. These things help to reduce the risk of cancer.
How does salt increase the risk of cancer?
Eating too much “bad” table salt (sodium chloride), or lots of processed foods high in salt, has been linked with a higher risk of cancer. This is not the case with salts like Himalayan Crystal salt which is made of different healthy “good” compounds. “Bad” salt could increase cancer risk by damaging the stomach lining, which causes inflammation, or by making the stomach lining more sensitive to cancer-causing chemicals.
Salt could also “badly” interact with a stomach bug called Helicobacter pylori that is linked to both stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.
Back to processed meats – such as bacon, sausages and ham. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) – these meats do promote cancer. Its report said 50g of processed meat a day – less than two slices of bacon – increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. Meanwhile, it said red meats were “probably carcinogenic” but there was limited evidence now.
What is processed meat?
Processed meat has been modified to either extend its shelf life or change the taste and the main methods are smoking, curing, or adding “bad” salt or “bad” preservatives. Processed meat includes bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, beef burgers and ham as well as canned meat and meat-based sauces.
It is the chemicals involved in the processing which increases the risk of cancer. High temperature cooking, such as on a barbeque, can also create carcinogenic chemicals.
The WHO has concluded on the advice of its International Agency for Research on Cancer, which assesses the best available scientific evidence:
It has now placed processed meat in the same category as radioactive plutonium, as this “bad” meat does cause cancer in many people.
Red meat risk in context
21% of bowel cancers are caused by processed or red meat.
86% of lung cancers are caused by tobacco.
Source: Cancer Research UK
Red meat does have nutritional “good” value too – it is a major source of iron, zinc and vitamin B12 and other nutrients. However, the WHO said there was evidence that 100g of red meat a day increased the risk of cancer by 17%.
“Eating a toasted bacon sandwich occasionally, isn’t going to do much harm – having a healthy diet is all about moderation.”
Although bowel cancer is more common in the developed world, this is starting to change. In South Africa, where the data is considered reasonably good, bowel cancer occurs less often than in developed countries but more often than in other parts of Africa. As in other parts of the world, men face a higher risk than women – they have breast cancer to worry about.
And if you zoom in closer, there are other interesting risk differences. A 1998 study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, found that a sample of black South Africans had less than a tenth of the risk of developing bowel cancer than their white counterparts. Low rates of bowel cancer, compared to the global average, have also been observed among black people in Western Africa.
But when you look at data from developed countries like the US, this pattern is reversed. Data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention show that between 1999 and 2002 black Americans had the highest rate of colorectal cancer and were also more likely to die from it than white Americans.
This suggests that the discrepancies across race are likely largely due to lifestyle factors, rather than genetic/hereditary factors. Or is there another factor?
The low incidence rate among black Africans living in rural areas is generally attributed to a starch, vegetable and fruit-based diet rich in fibre and containing little meat. However, consumption patterns are shifting: since 1994, meat consumption in South Africa – and particularly processed meat – has been on the rise. As diets in rapidly developing countries become more ‘westernized’, bowel cancer incidence rates are also increasing. So yes, bowel cancer, and what causes it, is well worth worrying about.
This is not the first bell that has tolled to warn of the dangers of bad red meat (and trumpeted the benefits of good white meats, particularly fish). Red meat is also linked to a higher risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, and other non-communicable diseases.
But we also must consider where else to get the vitamins that come from our red meat. According to Association for Dietetics South Africa, president Maryke Gallagher and her colleagues Catherine Pereira and Jackie Busch:
“In South Africa, eight micronutrients, namely vitamin A, vitamin B1, B2, B6, and B12, niacin, iron and zinc, have been identified as lacking in the population’s diet (micronutrients that are all found in red meat). Adding a small amount of these food products to a plant-based diet can yield considerable improvements in human health.”
Thus, the WHO classification has been generally interpreted not as a call to cut red-meat consumption entirely (sorry, vegetarians), but to consume it in moderation. If you are particularly fond of your bacon, nutritionists are saying, you should think about cutting back.
But with all these facts about “the good, the bad and the ugly”, the key to avoiding cancer is a strong immune system, a hydrated and balanced Ph body operating at a frequency above 60 mhz.
The New-Health ultrasound home therapy approach by the Institution of Health Science (of whom I am the founder), promotes a device called the CellQuicken RoyalVibe which strengthens the immune system, hydrates and balances the body’s Ph and keeps the body’s vibrational and energy levels at peak performance.
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Igniting hope for New-Health,