Why Red Meat May Cause Colorectal Cancer

Could frequent trips to your favorite burger joint increase your cancer risk? According to new research, a diet that is high in processed and red meat may lead to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

The recently published study gathered information from a large U.S.  prospective cohort of more than 300,000 men and women aged 50-71. Data were gathered through detailed questionnaires and a follow-up period of seven years.

Researchers considered both the type of meat consumed and the cooking methods used. They wanted to look for specific underlying causes of cancer, and they found their culprits in chemistry. It turns out that there are several mechanisms at work. Contributing to the cancer risk are first the type of iron found in red meat (called “heme” iron). Second, nitrates and nitrites, which are preservatives found in processed meat that contribute the “pink” color to hot dogs, cold cuts, bacon and related foods. Finally, HCAs (heterocyclic amines), carcinogenic compounds that develop when meat is cooked at high temperatures.

More than 2,700 diagnoses of colon cancer or rectal cancer were made among participants of this study during its 7-year duration. The conclusion was clear: diets highest in red meat and processed meat were associated with a 24% and 16% higher risk, respectively, for developing these types of cancer compared to diets lowest in these types of meat.  The people with diets lowest in red meat ate an average of 9g per 1,000 calories–or, about 0.6oz of red meat per day assuming a 2,000 calorie per day diet.  Conversely, the people with diets highest in red meat ate an average of 66.5g per 1,000 calories–or, about 4.7 oz red meat per day assuming a 2,000 calorie per day diet.  Furthermore, as red or processed meat intake increased from the lowest levels of intake to higher levels of intake, colorectal cancer risk increased as well.

The researchers found no link between white meat consumption and an elevated cancer risk, possibly due to a difference in total iron content. In looking at dietary impact, it is important to distinguish between the heme iron found in meat, and non-heme iron, which comes primarily from fortified cereals, fruit juice, vegetables, beans and grains. The non-heme iron has not been linked with cancer.

In addition to red meat itself, the study found that cooking at high temperatures (such as in grilling) appeared to add to the danger because of the chemicals that are released during the cooking process. The processing or curing of meats (as with lunch meats and hot dogs) is also a factor, since the procedure typically involves adding nitrate and nitrite substances – chemical preservatives that were linked in this study to an increased cancer risk.

Before this study was done, there had been little evidence regarding the individual elements in a high-meat diet that made it potentially harmful. This latest research supports previously published studies, but goes a step further to identify where the greatest risk is actually coming from.

Cutting back on the amount of red meat and processed meat in your diet is probably advisable based on this latest research.  If you’re not ready to eliminate meat altogether, check out this article on choosing leaner meats in moderation.

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  • Isn’t it nice how they draw these conclusions with no thought to the susceptablity of getting the disease of the people studied. I have a grandmother who drank like a fish and smoked like a forest fire and had very little exercise. According to all the ‘risks’ she has taken with her consumption, she should have been dead a long time ago, yet she is 100 years old and nearly petrified. My older brother only eats free range chicken for meat and he jogs, but he is scrawny and full of gray hair. I work very hard (physically) a couple times a year for 5-6 weeks at a shot, eat plenty of various types of meat, some veggies and plenty of fruit, and drink all the high quality beer (which contains the 13 essential nutients to support life) I want and I am more fit at 45 than I was at 20.

    Humans are meat eaters, it is our history and chemistry.

  • I was told by my brother in law that a chicken in one of these big farms is slaughtered 27 days after being born – they confine them, pump them with hormones, and antibiotics. Free range chicken, on the other hand, has a 9 month life. He told me to go to youtube and look up food inc. haven’t done it yet – afraid of what I will find.

  • I am a 26 year colon cancer survivor. After my surgery in 1984,I went on a high fiber,low fat diet.After 26 years,I am still cancer free.

  • PETA has some undercover footage from various slaughterhouses that made me stop eating meat the day I saw it. http://www.goveg.com/factoryFarming.asp *I had already watched Food Inc which got me on the fence. PETA got me way over it. Now I try to convince the meat eaters around me to ONLY buy local and/or organic. At least the animals are treated with some humanity during their short lifespan.

  • I pelt my fellow humans with rocks, wear only a loincloth and strangle every animal I can get my hands on… oh and let’s not forget going out with the elders for our weekly rape and pillage… why evolve!?

  • why use your eyes? why not evolve and try to walk around everywhere including a city with your eyes shut that way if it ever got dark and you had no light it wouldn’t bother you? Why? because its dumb. go drink soy milk as a guy and spike your estrogen levels because thats healthy. Why pshh.

  • There’s no guarantees either way, good eating habits or bad. All you are doing is changing the odds. You will always find exceptions. The article itself talked about the risks being raised something like 24% and 16%. Not everyone who smokes dies of lung cancer.

    Please don’t exclude science and rational thinking.

  • To all who will only eat raw carrots and lettuce for the rest of your life.

    P.S.- Your going to die anyway so live the way you like to live. You may live to a hundred you may not but at least you are”living”

  • I’ll just stay away from red meat now a days because I want to live longer in my LIFE than live shorter in my LIFE. I would eat something healthy for me like, chicken, fish, shell foods, multigrsined bread with Omega 3 bread ofr crackers..+ veggies too.

  • Ohhhhhhhhhh: Fyi: Im allergic to shrimps.because I get hives when I eat them….. .
    So …….thanks…..I’ll just do whatever I need to do to stay away from eating too much meduim rare meat. That’s ALL…………I don’t even drink cow’s milk because Im lactose intolerance as well.

  • Rip the red meat from your prey with your teeth while the carcass is still warm. Problem solved. I’ll bet the majority of these “researchers” eat raw fish, and don’t even realize the damage all those fish-prasites can do.

  • I have one thing to say after reading this article. I was the youngest patient that my doctors diagnosed with rectal cancer. The one thing that I never ate much of was red meat. So to read this article just does not make any sense to me what so ever. No, it is not a cancer that is in my family either. I just felt I had to share this with everyone.

  • i like how their study sweepingly included “processed” meats right along with “red” meats…… did it ever occur to anyone that this is not science? we were meant to eat natural meats, natural plants, etc. we were NOT meant to eat nitrates and nitrates. i think they need to re-do their “study” and eliminate processed meats from it. do one strictly on beef, another strictly on venison, another strictly on elk, etc, etc. I don’t even see a definition of “red” meat in their study. i’m guessing they used beef, factory farmed, wallowing in their own wastes on feedlots, fed chemicals and drugs, and butchered by machines. bad science. to the vegetarians who actually believe you’re doing yourselves a favor by eliminating meats from your diet, if your ancestors hadn’t eaten meats, you’d be sporting a pea sized brain — oh, wait a minute………..

  • How about Everything in moderation? As far as “red meat”, it makes sense NOT to cook on a grill with high heat because those pretty dark grill marks are full of carcinogens! If you eat anything with black grill marks, not to mention if cooked over charcoal, you are taking in some very bad chemicals that have been proven time and time again-to cause cancer. Have a wee little portion if ya must have any at all. No processed meats of any sort.

    Another thing, if ya must eat red meat, make sure ya have a fiber rich salad AND have a nice serving of brocolli to rapidly move all that animal flesh through the body, asap! Organic fresh meats, free range chicken and deep water fish are the only “animal flesh” anyone should be consuming. oh, remember to wash and PEEL your fruits and veges-lots of nasty pesticides to get ya!

    BTW-I am a 6 yr. breast cancer survivor and I rarely ate red meat. No family history, never smoked and most of my diet was veges and fruits but not organic. Now,almost everything is organic. Fresh fish, soy milk, and lots aof vege/fruit juice has made a big difference in how I feel. Lots of info out there! good luck eveyone!

  • @PhoenixDragonFire Phoenix: Please accept this comment as one reaching out to you. The refined white flower (burger bun) and grilled red meat act in concert with each other as an effective glue. We as a people did not eat white flour since time began. White flower showed up around 1920 and coronary heart disease skyrocketed the following year. Just a thought. Get some of last nights pan grease from beef and rub it on your hands. Then try rubbing it off with water. It will be very hard to clean off. Same thing is going on inside your arteries. Then try olive oil on your hands with water, It comes off quickly. In my business we call a cheeseburger, the triple by pass special. We also call the drive through window: Death Row

  • @Aprilincolorado April: Just a suggestion. Look up soy products. You will find soy is a highly refined processes food made from GMO plants. Instead of soy milk try organic almond milk. As for your breast cancer I am glad you survived. Many cancers are derived from pestacides.

  • @PhoenixDragonFire I would like to know if people in the study who contract colon cancer also skimp on fiber while wolfing down the red meat. Would the proper amount of fiber per day alleviate negatives from non-processed red meat?

  • That’s the way it is! Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die to get there! I don’t want to reach the point of just “living.” Do you?

  • try to tell the caveman no to eat raw meat. i dont think any human being today is living as close to nature as the original caveman did before history and yet he ate fresh raw meat daily.

    colorectal cancer could come from eating charred meat cooked by artificial means or from nitrites or from chemical or medicine additives given to the animals which make the the meat when cooked become carcinogen, but i personally doubt red meat alone could cause cancer.

  • I am a raw food vegan and love it. The best kept secret from most people is the advice one receives when diagnossed with diabetes: stop eating processed food. Eat fruits and vegies and some nuts. Everyone should see the video on: 30 days to reversing diabetes with the raw food diet. This should be front page news around the world but for some reason is not yet well known…Raw fruits and vegetables are the best and easiest weight loss diet. It is not calorie restriction…only food choices restrictions. And no limit on how much fruits or vegies to eat as they are negative calorie foods and take more calories to digest than you get out of them…Lap band anyone??????????@

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  • Not only red meet but other factors are also responsible for colorectal cancer. For example Human Papillomavirus, fat rich diet, obesity, family history of rectal, smoking………..etc.

  • Surimi-based products are gaining more prominence worldwide, because of the emergence of Japanese restaurants and culinary traditions in North America, Europe and elsewhere. Ideally, surimi should be made from low-value, white fish with excellent gelling ability and which are abundant and available year-round.

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  • I just love eating and meat is my favourite. I got very Interesting Information about meat here.
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