In a new study, researchers found that eating even moderate amounts of red meat can significantly increase the risk for colorectal cancer.
Researchers focused on data from 500,000 men and women who registered to be part of something called the UK Biobank, a data collection and research resource in the United Kingdom. Of this group, people who followed current British guidelines for red meat consumption (which are very similar to American guidelines) were at a higher risk for bowel cancer (also called colorectal cancer).Read More
“We recommend reducing the amount of red meat in the diet, reducing the intake of alcohol, and making sure that you eat a healthy and balanced diet,” he said.
Current guidelines recommend that people who eat more than 90g of meat per day try to cut down to about 70mg, or three slices of red meat, sliced about half the width of a slice of bread. But in this study, people who ate an average or 76g of meat per day had a 20 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer over people who ate about 21g of red meat per day. Risk increased by 20 percent with each added slice of ham or bacon (about 25g), and risk increased by 19 percent with each thick slice (about 50g) of roast beef or lamb.
“Anything that goes in through your mouth, or otherwise, goes into the stomach, and goes through the intestines,” Dr. Oberstein said, “can overwhelm the ability of the body to what’s called detoxify — to remove the toxins from that food or drink — and that can cause the cells in the lining of the intestine, or the cells in the liver, to be damaged.”
It’s those cells that can cause cancer risk. “Once those cells are damaged, they are at higher risk of having mutations, that can then increase a person’s risk of colon cancer,” said Dr. Oberstein.
But red meat also increases cancer risk in another way– by increasing inflammation in the body. “We do know that inflammation on its own is something that’s negative, in the sense that having increased inflammation increases the risk of developing cancer of the colon. People who consume large amounts of alcohol or, as I said before, a diet high in red meat or processed meats have increased inflammation in the intestine, and they are at increased risk of colon cancer,” Dr. Oberstein said.
It’s unclear how this study will affect extant guidelines on red meat, but red meat’s safety has been called into question in the past. And dieticians have long said people should avoid too much of it in their diet. “What we really want people to focus on is something called an anti-inflammatory diet,” Krista Maruschak Registered Dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, recently told SurvivorNet. “When I say anti-inflammatory diet, this is really a whole meal pattern that’s going to decrease somebody’s risk for cancer in the future.”
“Things that are pro-inflammatory in your diet are going to be refined carbohydrates, like white breads, white pastas, white rice, sweets desserts, as well as high fat, saturated fat meats, like red meat, processed meats, things like that,” Maruschak said.
Red meat may be part of the reason colorectal cancer is more common in the United States than in other countries, said Dr. Zuri Morrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angels.”In this country, we eat a lot of diets that are high in red meat, high in processed foods, and we also have a very high rate of obesity. In other countries, in Africa and in India, while they do have a lot of other health problems there, one thing they don’t have a lot of is colorectal cancer. And so, we really do know how diet plays such an important part in this disease.”