Why some processed meat linked to stronger cancer risks than others

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The WHO classified all processed meat as a carcinogen in 2015—including bacon, sausages, and ham as well as continental European products like prosciutto and salami.

In a study from Queen’s University Belfast, scientists found a big difference between processed meat treated with nitrites and nitrite-free processed meat.

In the study, scientists reviewed existing evidence on the link between processed meat and the development of bowel, colon, and rectal cancers.

They found that not all processed meats carry the same level of cancer risk.

When the researchers isolated research that only tested the consumption of processed meat containing sodium nitrite—a preservative used to extend shelf life and enhance color—evidence of a link with colon cancer jumped from half to just under two-thirds—65 percent.

The researchers say that not all processed meat contains nitrites.

British and Irish sausages, for example, are not processed with nitrites even though many of the Continental and US sausage equivalents—like frankfurters, pepperoni, and chorizo—are.

Some newer types of bacon and ham, processed without nitrites, are also appearing on the market.

In its 2015 statement, the WHO did not distinguish between processed meats containing nitrates and those without.

Based on the results of their study, the researchers now believe there is a need to define the health risk of both types of processed meat—separately.

They say it is important people eat a healthy, balanced diet. The current Department of Health guidance advises the public to consume no more than 70g of red or processed meat per day.

If you care about cancer, please read studies that low-carb diet could increase overall cancer risk, and vitamin D supplements strongly reduces cancer death.

For more information about cancer, please see recent studies about eating fish linked to higher risk of skin cancer, and results showing high vitamin D levels linked to decreased risk of bladder cancer.

The research was published in Nutrients and conducted by Dr. Brian Green et al.

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