- by Manipal Hospitals
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- May 26 2017
Do Processed Meats Cause Cancer?
There would be no meat lover who would say no to bacon-wrapped hot dogs or a hamburger or any other dish made out of sausage. Hot dogs, bacon, sausages and many other processed types of meat are becoming very popular these days. However, the different combination of various toppings, buns, and bacon that you eat every day is the main cause of bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is considered as the third most common cancer in the world.
What is processed meat?
Processed meat is generally considered unhealthy and it is linked to a number of diseases like cancer and heart disease. There are many harmful chemicals that are present in the processed meat which is usually not seen in fresh meat.
Processed meat has been preserved by curing, salting, fermentation, smoking and many other processes to enhance the flavor and also to increase the shelf life of the product. Processed meat is usually composed of pork or beef and also poultry. The most commonly available processed meats include hot dogs, bacon, sausages, canned meat, ham, and beef jerky.
Eating processed meat is associated with an increased risk of various chronic diseases. They are:
- Colorectal cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Heart disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
What does the WHO say about processed meat?
The WHO considers the processed meat to be dangerous and carcinogenic, and has classified it in the same class in which cigarettes, alcohol, and asbestos are classified. This classification doesn’t mean that they are equally dangerous but all of them are harmful for human consumption. Red meat is also considered harmful and will soon be added to the list of carcinogenic agents although it has slightly less risk when compared to the preserved products.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the WHO said that it has taken into account more than 800 investigated links between many types of cancer with the consumption of processed meat or red meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets. “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” says Kurt Straif, an official from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.
According to an independent research organization, globally, in a year about 34,000 people are dying because of cancer due to an increased consumption of processed meat. They also estimated that a diet high in red meat could also be responsible for 50,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide. However, these numbers contrast with about 1 million cancer deaths per year caused due to smoking, 600 000 per year caused due to alcohol consumption, and more than 200 000 per year due to air pollution, globally.
The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat (two strips of bacon) eaten daily would increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. In the same way, the risk of colorectal cancer increases by 17% for every 100 gram portion of red meat consumed daily.
Processed meats such as sausages are thus seen to be very detrimental to the health of the individual, being the cause of a variety of chronic diseases. It is best to reduce the consumption of processed and red meat to a minimum if not refrain from eating them at all.
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