Red meat and obesity linked to increased common cancers risk

November 14th, 2007 - 8:12 am ICT by admin  
The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) report, based on studies dating back to the 1960s, says that there is “convincing” evidence that red meat and processed meats such as ham, bacon, salami and sausages increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Excess body fat increases the risk of cancer of the colon, kidney, pancreas, esophagus and uterus as well as postmenopausal breast cancer, the report says.

It recommends that people should limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meat altogether. It also advises against eating more than 6 grams of salt per day.

A panel of 21 world experts spent five years evaluating what increases the risk of cancer and what decreases it based on an in-depth analysis of 7,000 cancer studies from around the world dating back to the 1960s.

“The public has the notion that fat gives you heart disease and diabetes, but they don’t realise it also gives you cancer. After smoking, obesity is the highest preventable cancer risk,” NewScientist quoted Martin Wiseman, project director of the report, as saying.

Wiseman added that though a number of foods carry a cancer risk, most of them can be eaten in small amounts without noticeably jeopardizing health. However, he said, there is no clear safe dose for salted or cured meats.

He said that processed meats often contain nitrates, preservatives that may contribute to the production of suspected carcinogens called N-nitroso compounds. They also contain high levels of salt, which is linked to stomach cancer.

The report also linked alcoholic drinks to mouth, oesophagus and breast cancers, with panellists urging children and pregnant women not to consume alcoholic drinks of any kind.

Overall, the report gives 10 “lifestyle recommendations” for those who want to reduce their cancer risk. Though some of these measures seem rather harsh, Wiseman is hopeful that the report will influence people to change their eating habits, at least in terms of avoiding unhealthy foods such as processed meat.

“It won’t be straightforward, but it’s not impossible. There’s this idea that diet is immutable, but there have actually been huge changes - even in the last 10 years,” he said.

Wiseman admitted, “The risk from processed meat is an order of magnitude less than that from smoking” but is nevertheless “not trivial”.

Citing the figures, Wiseman said that the risk of colorectal cancer increases by 21 percent for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten per day.

The recommendations offered by the report include: a body mass index (BMI) of 21 to 23; 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity, like brisk walking, every day; no more than 500 grams of red meat per week and complete avoidance of processed meats; less than one unit of alcohol a day for women; two units a day for men; and no more than six grams of salt a day. (ANI)

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