Eating more than 25g of red meat a day 'raises cancer risk'

Red meat

Eating even the moderate amounts of red and processed meat sanctioned by government guidelines increases the likelihood of developing bowel cancer, according to the largest United Kingdom study of the risks ever conducted.

Eating a lot of red meat - like beef, lamb or pork - also increases the risk, it revealed.

Even small amounts of red and processed meat - such as a rasher of bacon a day - can increase the risk of bowel cancer, according to research.

The study, part-funded by Cancer Research UK, found that every 25 grams of processed meat eaten daily - equivalent to a rasher of bacon or a slice of ham - increased the risk of bowel cancer by 20 per cent.

For red meat only, the risk was 15pc higher for people who ate 54g per day (about one thick slice of roast beef or one lamb chop) on average compared with those who had 8g per day.

Processed meat - including bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami - is modified to either extend its shelf-life or change the taste - the main methods are smoking, curing, or adding salt or preservatives.

They also linked alcohol - both beer and wine - to an increased risk of bowel cancer. In January, a study commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) reported fibre also protects against heart disease.

The research, conducted by the University of Auckland and the University of Oxford surveyed half a million United Kingdom men and women aged between 40 and 69.

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The researchers found those who ate the most and least red and processed meat tended to exaggerate their consumption or lack thereof.

The study Diet and Colorectal Cancer has been published today in the International Journal of Epidemiology. We would want to consider other aspects of health if we were going to change the recommendation.

"Anything you can do to cut down how much meat you're eating and how often you're eating it should reduce your risk of bowel cancer", she said.

Red and processed meats pose a risk for a number of reasons: red meat is high in haem-irons, which can damage the lining of the bowel; cooking meat at a high temperature or over an open flame can cause carcinogens to form; and nitrates found in processed meats can form carcinogenic compounds in the gut, she said.

People in the highest fifth for fibre intake from bread and breakfast cereals had a 14 percent lower risk of bowel cancer.

"A reduction or removal of nitrite from meat products would therefore have only little impact on cancer risk".

Cancer Research UK's expert in diet and cancer, Professor Tim Key, who co-authored the study, said: "Our results strongly suggest that people who eat red and processed meat four or more times a week have a higher risk of developing bowel cancer than those who eat red and processed meat less than twice a week. An increased consumption of fibre, as shown by this study, would be of considerably more benefit".

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