Cutting Your Cancer Risk through Diet

English: nitrosylheme, nitrosyl-heme, heme-NO,...
Nnitrosylheme. (Pegg & Shaidi, 2000, “The color of meat” in “Food & Nutrition, Press Inc., Trumbull, Connecticut, USA), released from NO-myoglobin by cooking cured meat (Honikel K.O., 2008, Meat Science, 78, 68-76) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I’d like to focus on a couple of things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer. We have long known that consumption of processed meat can increase the risk of cancer.

1. Processed meats: These agents are created by nitrites used to color and preserve processed meats such as bacon, sausage, and lunch meats. These compounds have been linked to cancer in lab animals. The N-nitroso compounds are not in the meat (the food companies must add chemicals to keep it from forming), but are created in the gut in a reaction probably facilitated by bacteria. This may explain why those of us who eat processed meatus have a higher risk of colorectal, esophagus, and stomach cancer.

2. Unprocessed meats: Unprocessed red meat can also increase N-nitroso compounds in your gut. For example, the risk of colorectal cancer is higher (at least according to some studies) among individuals who consume more heme iron, a substance found in all meats, but especially in red meat). On the other hand, white meat does not appear to do so. Could it be that iron attaches to hemoglobin in the blood? The studies are insufficient to say with any degree of certainty.

3. Meat mutagens: Cooking meats to well done at high temperatures causes cancer in animal studies. For humans, the data is more mixed. In the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, colorectal cancer risk increased by a factor of 1.2 among those who consumed the highest levels of two key heterocyclic amines (HCA). Chicke eaters may have a lower risk, even though the levels of HCA may be high in barbecued chicken.

In our next issue, we’ll look at specific things you can do to lower risk, including improving your grilling technique. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. And have a great day!

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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