September 18, 2020

Animal-specific sugar may drive cancer risk in people who eat red meat


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raw-meat-thumb-450x318By Thor Odinson   From Progressive Radio Network

Researchers at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine report findings on the role a sugar specific to red meat may play in forming tumors in humans.

The researchers wanted to understand why people who eat a lot of red meat are at higher risk for certain cancers, while people who eat other types of meat are not.

The team first conducted a systematic survey of common foods and found that red meats – beef, pork and lamb – are rich in a sugar called Neu5Gc and provide the primary sources of this sugar in the human diet.

From previous studies, the researchers had found that Neu5Gc can be absorbed into human tissues.

From these findings, the team hypothesized that eating red meat could, therefore, promote potentially cancer-forming inflammation if the body is constantly generating antibodies against Neu5Gc, which is a foreign molecule.

In a mouse model engineered to have a deficiency of this sugar, the scientists found that feeding the mice Neu5Gc resulted in systemic inflammation, which was associated with a fivefold increase in spontaneous tumor formation.

Principal investigator Dr. Ajit Varki, distinguished professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and member of the UC-San Diego Moores Cancer Center, says:

“Until now, all of our evidence linking Neu5Gc to cancer was circumstantial or indirectly predicted from somewhat artificial experimental setups. This is the first time we have directly shown that mimicking the exact situation in humans – feeding non-human Neu5Gc and inducing anti-Neu5Gc antibodies – increases spontaneous cancers in mice.”

As the researchers did not expose the mice in the study to carcinogens or attempt to artificially induce cancers, they believe Neu5Gc is strongly associated with increased cancer risk.

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Related story:

Red and processed meat and cancer prevention

From World Cancer Research Fund

Does eating red and processed meat increase your cancer risk?

It’s quite likely that you’ve seen or heard news stories about the link between red and processed meat and cancer. This is because there is strong evidence that eating a lot of these foods increases your risk of bowel cancer.

To reduce your bowel cancer risk, we advise eating no more than 500g (cooked weight) per week of red meat, like beef, pork and lamb, and eating processed meats like ham, bacon and salami as little as possible.


What is red meat?

Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb and goat – foods like hamburgers, minced beef, pork chops and roast lamb.

As a rough guide 500g of cooked red meat is the same as 700g of raw red meat. To help you visualise how much this is, a medium portion of roast beef or pork is about 90g and a medium steak is about 145g (cooked weight).

Although eating a lot of red meat is linked to bowel cancer, it is a good source of nutrients including protein, iron and zinc, so it’s fine to include up to 500g a week as part of healthy, balanced diet.


What is processed meat?

Processed meat is meat which has been preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives.

Examples include ham, bacon, pastrami and salami, as well as hot dogs and some sausages.

Hamburgers and minced meats only count as processed meat if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives.

Research has shown that eating processed meat can increase your cancer risk. As there’s no real nutritional need to eat processed meats, if you eat meat, it’s best to choose fresh, unprocessed meat.


How are red and processed meat linked to cancer?

There is strong evidence that eating a lot of red meat is a cause of bowel cancer.

One possible reason for this is that the compound that gives red meat its colour, haem, may damage the lining of the bowel.

Studies also show that people who eat a lot of red meat tend to eat fewer plant-based foods, so they benefit less from their cancer-protective properties.

We also have strong evidence that processed meats are a cause of bowel cancer.

When meat is preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives, cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) can be formed.

These substances can damage cells in the body, leading to the development of cancer.


Easy ways to eat less red meat and cut down on processed meat

Keep a few days a week red-meat free

Add beans or pulses such as kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils. Use them to replace some of the meat in dishes such as chilli or bolognese

Instead of bacon, chorizo or salami, try spicy chicken or vegetarian sausages



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