Information for the General Public
Red Meat Causes Colon Cancer Not so long ago WHO reported that cured and processed meat causes cancer. The present report focusses on processed meat like ham, sausage, hot dog etc. The group of 22 scientists from WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France evaluated more than 800 studies from several continents about meat and cancer. Based on that evaluation, they classified processed meat as "carcinogenic to humans" and red meat as "probably carcinogenic." For very many years we have known that bowel cancer is more common in the West than in the East. We often wondered if this was because the rich Westerners ate a lot more meat compared to the poor Easterners. There was however no conclusive proof until now. As expected, the North American meat industry is protesting about this report, arguing that cancer is a complex disease not caused by a single food. WHO estimates that a 50-gram portion of processed meat, eaten daily, increases the risk for bowel cancer by 18 percent. The report also links red meat to cancer. It classifies beef, lamb and pork as "probable" carcinogens. Several years ago Harvard Health published important information about the effects of long-term meat consumption. It indicated that a high consumption of meat is linked to an increased risk of cancer in the lower colon and rectum. Conversely it also reported that the long-term consumption of large amounts of fish and poultry appeared protective. The best evidence on the topic comes from two studies published in 2005, one from Europe and the other from the United States. The European research tracked 478,000 men and women who were free of cancer when the study began. 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). Their consumption of chicken did not influence risk one way or the other, but a high consumption of fish appeared to reduce the risk of colon cancer by about a third. A study from England showed that large amounts of red meat can produce genetic damage to colon cells in just a few weeks, but it does not prove that red meat causes cancer. None of the cells were malignant, and the body has a series of mechanisms to repair damaged DNA. Still, the research fits with earlier epidemiologic data raising a red flag about red meat. Instead of counting on your body to repair your damaged DNA, do everything you can to prevent damage in the first place. Dr. Kurt Straif Epidemiologist at the International Agency for Research on Cancer said in a statement -“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed”. With increasing wealth in China the consumption of red meat there has increased considerably. Although India is different, as the middleclass numbers rise the consumption of red meat is also likely to increase. The message now is clear, you don’t have to give up red meat to stay healthy, but you would be wise to limit your consumption. Choose meat which is not fatty and avoid charring your meat on a grill. Meat cooked on a barbecue can be charred easily. Limit processed, cured, and salted meats as much as possible. K. Badrinath