Now, if you’re a meat-eater like me, you may be alarmed. So, I wanted to dive into this further to give it some context.
A Harvard University health publication from 2004 (updated in 2008) gave me a good start on the history into the study of red meat and what we already knew about its influence on cancer risk (colon cancer, more specifically). There are two major studies they point out, one from Europe with nearly 500,000 participants, and one from the US of nearly 150,000 participants. Regarding the European group, to quote directly from this publication:
“The people who ate the most red meat (about 5 ounces a day or more) were about a third more likely to develop colon cancer than those who ate the least red meat (less than an ounce a day on average).”
The IARC’s job is to examine all current data produced around the world and interpret the findings of the data. So the pronouncement does NOT specify amounts of red meat and processed meat that might be safe to eat.
What is key is frankly something that the science world has been advocating for a while now–based on past research–to limit your intake of red meat, and definitely to limit your intake of processed meats.
The 64,000-dollar question is: if I do not plan to cut out red meat completely, how much do I limit my red/processed meat intake?
This is one reason I am highlighting the Harvard article, because it does give us some type of gauge, based on data, of the amount of red meat that significantly increased colon cancer risk. This is ONLY meant to allow us to understand what parameter was in place that led to the outcome, but by no means does that mean that if you eat say, 4 ounces of red meat a day, you’re in the clear.
The other piece of this is to understand why there’s a connection between red or processed meats and cancer incidence. It all goes back to chemistry, of course, whereby these particular types of meat produce chemical compounds that can damage the DNA in our cells. This class of chemicals are the N-nitroso compounds; specifically, NMDA, and has been listed as a known probable carcinogen according to the IARC, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). We know from basic biology that cells have repair mechanisms in place, HOWEVER, when the damaging substance overwhelms the cells, repair mechanisms can’t keep up and a damaged cell is left behind.
With respect to processed meats which includes anything cured, smoked, pickled, and amalgamated (like hot dogs) from animal body parts, I kind of think we ALWAYS knew they were bad for us. So, although I do still eat bacon, ham, and hot dogs, it is a rare “treat” and not a weekly staple.
In the end what are we to do?
Next post, I’ll at least share MY strategy with you.