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Meatless for CRC prevention
May 31, 2020
It has been known for millennia that what we eat can be powerful medicine – or a slow poison. According to Ayurvedic medicine, the 5,000 year-old healing system originating in India, all good health starts with diet and digestion.
Today, there is a growing body of evidence that shows how our diet impacts our risk of developing a variety of diseases including colorectal cancer (CRC). In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified everyday foods according to their cancer-causing potential (carcinogenicity). By conducted a meta-analysis, the examination of data from a number of independent studies on the impact of foods on cancer incidence, they were able to evaluate overall trends.
In their report, they classified processed meat (think: hot dogs, sausages and bacon) as carcinogenic based on sufficient evidence in humans that consumption actually causes CRC. Scientists suggest that the chemicals used to preserve processed meats, such as nitrates and nitrites, might increase exposure of the gut to N-nitroso-compounds. These compounds have the ability to cause mutations or changes in the genetic material of our intestinal cells, which is the first step in the cancer development process. With each 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily, the risk of CRC goes up by 18%. That’s a pretty powerful relationship, considering that 50g is a relatively small amount – about 2 slices of bacon, 2 and a half slices of baloney, or 2 medium slices of ham. While the risk of developing CRC because of one’s consumption of processed meat remains small, the risk does goes up with each additional amount of processed meat consumed.
Red meat such as beef, pork, lamb, veal was classified as probably carcinogenic, with strong evidence to show that it contributes to cancer development processes in the body. Both processed and unprocessed red meat also contain haem iron, which may have a cytotoxic effect in the intestine and increase the formation of the above-mentioned N-nitroso-compounds. Cooking meats at high temperatures such as on the barbecue can also generate mutation-causing heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Although red meat does have significant nutritional value as a good source of protein, we tend to over consume it. This leads not only to a variety of health problems but also the destruction of the environment that comes with raising animals to feed billions of meat-eaters on earth. Our health and the health of the environment would certainly benefit from less meat eating. Check out our Foods that Fight Cancer website for great ideas on how to incorporate more meatless meals into your routine!
International Agency for Research on Cancer
World Cancer Research Fund
Carrington, D. “Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth”. The Guardian. Accessed May 30, 2020, <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth>
Key T., et al. 2020. Diet, nutrition and cancer risk: what do we know and what is the way forward? BMJ, 368:m511.
Willett, W., et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on health diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet, 393(10170), 447-492.