Eating More Red Meat Claimed To Increase Risk Of Bowel Cancer

processed meats such as sausages.
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A new study claims that eating about 50 grams of unprocessed red meat daily increases the risk of bowel cancer by 20 per cent.

A new study by the University of Oxford with the University of Auckland has made the claim that if you eat red meat daily, you increase your risk of developing bowel cancer by 20 per cent. The study is published in the International Journal Of Epidemiology

The study looked at the dietary habits of 500,000 people aged between 40 and 69 in the UK and their general health. The overall conclusion from the study was that even moderate consumption of red meats like ham and bacon was linked to the increased risk of developing the cancer. It seems that people who ate about 29 grams of processed meat daily had a 20 per cent increased  risk compared to those who only ate the equivalent of 5 grams per day.

We know that roughly 23,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer which makes it the third most common type. In New Zealand, it is the second leading cause of death by cancer in that country. we also know that one in 18 women and one in 15 men will develop the disease in their lifetime.

There has been a long association with the consumption of lots of red meat but this study considers small amounts to be an issue. In this study 2,609 people were diagnosed with the disease. 

The current UK government guideline categorically states that consumers should  “on average eat no more than 70 grams of red and processed meat a day”. The World Health Organisation regards various processed meats like bacon, sausages and ham are cancer causing carcinogens whilst red meat is probably carcinogenic.

A slice of ham or a rasher of bacon is roughly 20 grams in weight. A lamb chop or a thick slab of roast beef is about 50 grams. 

The co-author Professor Tim Key who conducted the study at Oxford University’s cancer epidemiology unit stated:-

“Our results strongly suggest that people who eat red and processed meat four or more times a week have a higher risk of developing bowel cancer than those who eat red and processed meat less than twice a week.”

“There’s substantial evidence that red and processed meat are linked to bowel cancer, and the World Health Organisation classifies processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic.

“Most previous research looked at people in the 1990s or earlier, and diets have changed significantly since then, so our study gives a more up-to-date insight that is relevant to meat consumption today.”

It’s worth noting though that in some of the figures especially the first one, there is not the clear association that would be expected to be seen. However, it has been a headline grabbing statement to make. It is also worth noting that increasing the amount of dietary fibre reduces the risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers. Could it be the case that increasing fibre intake ameliorates the effect of increasing the amount of red meat eaten ?  The study indicates that those of us who eat more fibre such as wholemeal bread and high-fibre breakfast cereals daily could lower their risk by about 14 per cent. However,  we also know that drinking a bottle of beer or having a small glass of red wine increases the risk of developing bowel cancer by 8 per cent.

It also throws into question the idea that nitrites were the principal cause of colorectal cancer. The study showed that there was very little difference between red and processed meat. The latter is the main source of nitrite and the study indicates it has little effect on the development of cancer based on these results.

References

Bouvard, V., Loomis, D., Guyton, K.Z., et al.  (2015) Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat.  Lancet Oncol. 16: 1599- 1600
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