Meat and cancer

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What is harmful in meat?  

A high red meat diet encourages the formation of harmful carcinogenic substances called N-nitroso compounds. These form in our gut and are then absorbed into the general circulation. This is occurs by a process called N-nitrosification which is triggered by the presence of the insoluble iron constituent of haemoglobin (the red cells found in blood). - haemoglobin present in red meat thus leads to the production of N-nitroso compounds. Meat also contains high levels of animal fats rich in saturated (harmful) fats. Non-organic particularly cheap meats may contain hormones and other chemicals administered to the animal during intensive farming.

The evidence  

When people change form a vegetarian diet to a diet rich in red meat, they experience a spike in the N-nitroso compounds. These in laboratory tests have been shown to cause DNA mutations leading to cell death or even worse, partial damage leading to the start of the cancer process.  In a recently published large clinical trial called the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC) 25,000 people from Norfolk were analysed for their dietary habits and incidence of cancer. There was a significantly higher incidence of colon cancer in those individuals which consumed higher red meat intake. On further analysis the data showed that the meat eaters with a high dietary fibre only had a moderate increased risk whereas high meat and low fibre had a particularly high risk of colon cancer. Other studies have confirmed that people who eat less meat are mainly benefiting from the protective effects of other foods which they eat more of, especially the fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes found in a vegetarian diet. Since meat is the most easily absorbed source of protein and iron, pre-menopausal women, teenage girls and young children, all of whom are at high risk for iron deficiency might consider including a little meat in their diets provided it is eating with vegetables.

Tips for healthy meat eating    

Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. Cancernet.co.uk has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.


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