- High consumption of red and processed meats can significantly increase one’s risk of developing colon cancer.
- ‘High consumption’ was quantified as a daily intake of at least three ounces for men and two ounces for women of red meat, and frequent consumption (five or six days a week for men, two or three days for women) of processed meat.
- Substituting red and processed meats with poultry and fish reduces the risk of colon cancer, as they have an inverse relationship with the disease.
- While high meat consumption increases the risk of colon cancer, it still doesn’t compare to other risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
- Reducing red meat intake without elimination could be a practical approach towards minimizing the risk of colon cancer.
Research has revealed, prolonged and excessive consumption of red and processed meats such as pastrami and salami can elevate your vulnerability to colon cancer.
A comprehensive 20-year study embarked on which involved more than 148,000 participants aged between 50 to 74. The results of the study indicated that individuals who consume the aforementioned meats at a high-rate have a 50 percent higher susceptibility to developing lower colon cancer compared to those who consume less. This report has been documented in a reputed medical journal.
An Expected Revelation
According to Dr. Michael J. Thun, a significant figure in the area of epidemiological research in cancer, these results are not unexpected. He elaborates, “There have been 20 such studies focusing on the correlation between the delivery of red or processed meat and colorectal cancer. Most observations denote a higher risk for people who consume more. This study is one of the most extensive ones conducted to date, and it significantly contributes to the currently available evidence about the relationship.”
Defining ‘Excessive Consumption’
The study quantified ‘high consumption’ of red meat as a daily intake of at least three ounces for men and two ounces for women. For processed meat, it was defined as consumption five or six days a week for men and two or three days for women.
In comparison, individuals who consumed red or processed meat not more than thrice a week had a 50 percent lower risk. Additionally, long-term ingestion of poultry and fish showed an inverse relation with the risk of developing colon cancer.
Diet Choices and Its Implications
Dr. Thun brings to light the impact these findings could have on followers of the Atkins diet, a regime that encourages high meat intake. He asserts that while the impact of such diets on health long-term is currently unknown, the accumulating evidence pointing to an elevation in colon cancer risk due to a diet high in red or processed meat is unignorable. Therefore, it would be unwise to follow such a diet over the long term.
However, Dr. Thun also makes it a point to mention that while high meat consumption is related to a 50 percent increased risk for lower colon cancer, it doesn’t compare to other risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
Recommendations for Risk Reduction
Maintaining a healthy body weight and regular physical activity are some of the methods for reducing risk. Cancer screening methods such as annual fecal occult blood tests, colonoscopies every 10 years, and flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years are advised for those over 50.
Dr. Steven H. Zeisel, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, shares a cautious perspective. He emphasizes the need for a controlled trial that assigns individuals to various diets for assessment over multiple years. While such a trial is not currently planned, he suggests moderation in consumption.
Zeisel concludes, “Reducing red meat intake seems a logical step for minimizing the risk of colon cancer. But no evidence suggests the occasional consumption of red meat increases cancer risk. There is no necessity to completely eliminate meat intake or drastically alter diets.”
For further information on colorectal cancer and its prevention, consider visiting the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.