IN OUR previous column in 2006, we pointed out that regularly eating red meat, fresh or processed, severely raised the risk for the development of cancer of
pancreatic, colon, breast and other cancers, as reported by several medical studies. The meat industry and their marketing firms contested these reports for
obvious profit-driven motives, much like the tobacco industry in the past, until the US Supreme Court,
siding with the scientific community, decided tobacco was carcinogenic, including secondhand smoke. As far as red meat is concerned, to this day, the
debate goes on. Who should we believe?
A diet high in processed meat (sausages, luncheon meats, etc.) may increase the risk of carnivores developing pancreatic cancer by almost 70 percent, reported a recent major study that was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and released to the public in October 2005.
The report showed “an average of 41 cases of
pancreatic cancer were diagnosed per 100,000
people each year among those who ate the most
processed meat compared with 20 cases among those who ate the least.”
This research, which included 180,000 individuals, also found that individuals who ate even non-processed red meats, including pork, beef, and any other red meats, had a 50 percent higher risk of having
cancer of the pancreas. While this is 20 percent lower compared to those who ate processed meats, 50
percent increase in the risk is still too high for
comfort, since pancreatic cancer is a very painful and fatal disease, with no known cure.
Scientists think the culprit-carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) may not be the saturated fat in red meats but the nitrate-based preservatives and the cooking method, like charcoal-grilling and broiling. Apparently, the cooking method and the nitrate preservatives each play a great role as carcinogens.
While the saturated fat in fresh (no preservative) red meat appears not to be linked to pancreatic cancer in this study, other studies have shown that people who eat red meat regularly have a higher risk for developing cancer of the colon, breast, and other cancers in general, compared to those who minimize eating or abstain from red meat. Red meat also causes a quick rise in the cholesterol blood level, a condition that increases the risk for the development of heart attack and stroke.
In 2005 alone, 32,180 Americans and 60,000 Europeans were found to have pancreatic cancer, a disease that is often diagnosed late because they are not readily obvious clinically. Less than 5 percent of these patients live for more than five years after the cancer is first detected.
WebMD, a most reputable health site recently reported this: “The National Institutes of Health-AARP study of more than a half-million older Americans concluded that people who ate the most red meat and processed meat over a 10-year-period were likely to die sooner than those who ate smaller amounts. Those who ate about 4 ounces of red meat a day were more likely to die of cancer or heart disease than those who ate the least, about a half-ounce a day. Epidemiologists classified the increased risk as “modest” in the study.
“Many studies have found similar links. Another one that followed more than 72,000 women for 18 years found that those who ate a Western-style diet high in red and processed meats, desserts, refined grains, and French fries had an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from other causes.
“The association between consumption of red and processed meats and cancer, particularly colorectal cancer, is very consistent,” says Marji McCullough, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society.
“After a systemic review of scientific studies, an expert panel of the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded in 2007 that “red or processed meats are convincing or probable sources of some cancers.” Their report says evidence is convincing for a link between red meat, processed meat, and colorectal cancer, and limited but suggestive for links to lung, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, and endometrial cancers.
“RashmiSinha, PhD, the lead author of the National Cancer Institute study, points to a large number of studies that link red meat consumption with chronic diseases.”
Other risk factors for cancer in general include smoking, family history of cancer, obesity, diabetes, age (older ones), gender (male), ethnicity (African), exposure to certain dyes, pesticides, and chemicals related to gasoline. Helicobacter pylori infection that causes the common ulcer of the stomach is also a predisposing factor. African Americans appear to have higher incidence of pancreatic cancer and poorer prognosis than Whites.
Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors, besides eating red meat. For prevention, eating as little or no red meat as possible, eating fish instead, abstinence from cigarettes, maintaining a normal body weight, daily exercises, and eating a lot of vegetables, fruits and whole grains have all been found to significantly lower the risk of the development of cancer in general, not to mention heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s.
The scientific facts and evidences are too overwhelming to ignore. While we can look the other way and ran away from medical statistics, we cannot hide from the ravages of cancer and other illnesses brought on by our indiscretion and self-abuse.
In cardiovascular illnesses, like heart attack and stroke, in metabolic diseases, like type 2 diabetes, and in most cancers, lifestyle and personal behavior are the greatest factors in the causation of these maladies, and these killers are actually preventable.
As always, as far as our health is concerned, the ball is in our court. How we play it will determine the quality of our life, our future, and longevity.
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