Wednesday 14 September 2016

Processed Meat Dangerous, Causes Cancer - WHO Report

The world health organization (WHO) in its report has warned that consumption of processed meat is a major cause of cancer. Processed meat has been ranked as a group one carcinogen (similar cancer causing ranking with cigarettes, asbestos and alcohol).

The WHO, through its International Agency for Recearch on Cancer released a report (in question and answer format) evaluating the link between the consumption of red and processed meat to formation of cancer.

The report defines red meat as all mammalian muscle meat which includes, beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

Processed meat however refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance its flavour or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beaf, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal or meat by-products such as blood.

Examples of processed meat includes hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sources.

From the report, processed was ranked as a group one carcinogen because sufficient evidence exist showing that it causes cancer in humans. Red meat on the other hand was ranked as a group 2a carcinogen (it is probably cancer causing to  humans) because there is limited evidence from studies linking consumption of red meat to formation of cancer.

The report confirms a definite link between the consumption of processed meat to colorectal cancers in humans.

Why is processed meat cancer causing?

Meat contains multiple components such as haem (a type of iron). Meat also contains chemicals that form cancer forming chemical compounds during meat processing. Examples of such cancer forming chemical compounds include the N-nitroso compounds and the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Cooking meat at high temperatures, in direct contact with flame or hot surface (such as barbecue or pan-frying) also generates more of certain types of cancer forming chemical compounds e.g heterocyclic aromatic amines.

What are the risks in numbers?

Data from studies show that every 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases cancer formation  risk by about 18%.

Cancer risk related to red meat consumption, however, is difficult to estimate due to limited evidence on the causal link between red meat consumption and cancer formation. It is suggested that the risk of cancer increases by 17% for every 100gram portion of red meat consumed.

 How to prevent associated cancer risk of meat consumption

To prevent the cancer risks associated with consumption of meat, you can do the following;
  • Reduce consumption of processed meat significantly.
  • Eat your red meat with good servings of vegetables.
  • Eat red meat in moderation


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