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New study shows that red meat increases the risk of cancer due to a sugar molecule that infiltrates our tissues and later causes tissue inflammation. The new research contradicts previous belief that red meat leads to cancer due to harmful chemicals released when grilling.
The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by UC San Diego scientists.
The Neu5Gc, a carcinogenic sugar molecule found in red meat products such as pork, beef, lamb and bison, is a molecule unnatural for our bodies. When it gets ingested it gets fully incorporated within our tissue, but after some time the immune system attacks it causing repeated inflammation within the tissue. Repeated inflammation was linked by previous studies with increased risk of developing cancer.
“In this case, the foreign sugar is like a Trojan Horse. It becomes part of your own cells. When you react to a peanut or other allergy-causing substance, you’re reacting to something foreign. This is the first example we know of something that’s foreign, gets totally incorporated into you despite the fact that your immune system recognizes it,”
Dr. Ajit Varki, lead author of the study, said.
Neu5Gc is also present in whole milk, fish eggs and some types of cheese. So, scientists recommend we consume those with moderation. Fish, however, doesn’t contain the carcinogenic molecule, only its eggs do.
Other studies have also associated red meat with cancer, especially breast, prostate, ovarian, colorectal and lung cancer. Dr. Varki said that the new found molecule increased the cancer risk, but it wasn’t the only cause of cancer. When we eat red-meat, Neu5Gc acts like “gasoline on fire,” with gasoline representing the Neu5Gc molecule, and fire representing the risk of developing cancer.
Dr. Varki said that he personally doesn’t consume red meat, but he nevertheless doesn’t recommend his patients to do the same since red meat has important nutritional value. For instance, it is rich in iron, so people aged 40 or less could have more health benefits from eating it, than risks of developing cancer. After the age of 40, red meat tends to be more harmful than beneficial, Dr. Varki added. However too much Neu5Gc in our bodies is harmful for every age group, researchers say.
Dr. Varki recommends people who do not want to give up red meat to get maximum three servings per week. He also believes that for modern man it is not necessary to eat red meat since modern diets are very fortified. Dr. Varki said he doesn’t eat red meat at all, but he didn’t give up poultry and fish.
Image Source: Wired