It is the one year anniversary of the announcement by the International Agency for Research on cancer(IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization known for expertise in analyzing scientific data for health risks, that meat acts as a carcinogen (http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr240_E.pdf). The analysis placed processed red meat at a risk similar to the notorious pesticide RoundUp at best and comparable to diesel fumes and tobacco at worst. These were very strong words that shocked many and made headlines worldwide (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/26/hot-dogs-bacon-and-other-processed-meats-cause-cancer-world-health-organization-declares/). In case you missed it, the IARC, comprised of 22 scientists from 10 countries, reviewed over 800 studies and found that:
1. Processed meats like bacon, ham, salami, sausage and beef jerky are class I carcinogens, they highest risk assigned and cause cancer with sufficient data to make a firm conclusion. The relationship was strongest with colorectal cancer (CRC) and stomach cancer.
2. The risk increases incrementally with the amount of these meats that are eaten. Each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
3. Fresh red meats like steak and roasts, but including pork and lamb, were considered as probable causes of cancer to humans (Class 2a) with links to colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer.
The report of the IARC followed similar prior reports like that of the World Cancer Research Fund (http://wcrf-uk.org/uk/preventing-cancer/ways-reduce-cancer-risk/red-and-processed-meat-and-cancer-prevention) that drew similar conclusions.
Now new research has applied this announcement to indicate how the recommendations of the IARC along with other lifestyle measures can reduce the risk of CRC https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27752849). Six dietary and lifestyle recommendations (body weight, physical activity, energy density, plant foods, red and processed meat, and alcohol) were examined in terms of their association with CRC incidence over 7.6 years of follow-up in 66,920 adults aged 50-76 years at baseline (2000-2002) with no history of CRC.
The analysis indicated that participants meeting 1-3 recommendations enjoyed a 34-45 % lower CRC incidence, and those meeting 4-6 of the targets experienced a 58 % lower incidence of CRC. The lowest CRC risk for women related to body fatness and red and processed meat and for men it was avoiding alcohol intake and red and processed meat.
The tragic nature of CRC in the US is enormous. In 2014 about 140,000 were diagnosed in the US with CRC and nearly 50,000 died of this disease (http://www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsstatistics/colorectal-cancer-facts-figures). African American men and women experience the highest rates of CRC, as much as 50% higher than whites.
Similar to the current debate about the crucial role of substituting animal saturated fats with healthy options other than processed foods rich in sugar (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joel-kahn-md/saturated-fat-remains-the_b_12094842.html), a strategy of replacing a breakfast of sausage and bacon with a plant based bean burrito or a lentil patty would be anticipated to produce a dramatic reduction in the risk of CRC (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26077375). On the 1 year anniversary of the IARC, choose plants over animal products. At least one major hospital system has announced a total ban on processed red meats to be implemented in 2017. Others must follow suit.
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