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Sugar in Red Meat Linked to Cancer Risk

sugar in red meat linked to cancer risk

You may not think that beef, pork, and lamb contain sugar, but they do, and that sugar in red meat has been linked to cancer risk. The name of the sugar is Neu5Gc, and a new mouse study strongly suggests it contributes to a significant increase in the formation of tumors.


While it is true that mice are not humans, the investigators know from previous research that human tissues absorb Neu5Gc. Therefore, they suggest that individuals who eat red meat could face the same potential cancer risk as mice since the sugar could stimulate inflammation if the body keeps making antibodies against this sugar, which is a foreign invader.

The new mouse study, which was conducted at the University of California San Diego Moores Cancer Center, showed that mice fed Neu5Gc had a fivefold increase in the formation of spontaneous tumors. According to Dr. Ajit Varki, distinguished professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, this study was the first time it has been shown that “feeding non-human Neu5Gc and inducing anti-Neu5Gc antibodies increases spontaneous cancers in mice."

The investigators also pointed out that their findings are relevant since they did not exposure the mice to any cancer-causing substances nor try to artificially induce cancers. Thus Neu5Gc seems to be strongly related to an increased risk of cancer. However, they must still prove that this sugar in red meat is associated with cancer risk in people.

Red meat and health risks
Numerous other studies have indicated an association between consumption of red meat and the risk of cancer, including colorectal cancer and other serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. Let’s begin with the cancer risks.

Also see: Organic ground red meat vs regular red meat.

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The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research’s (AICR) Continuous Update Project (CUP) Expert Panel analyzes data regarding the risk of cancer. In one report from AICR, it was emphasized that an estimated “45 percent of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented if we all ate more fiber-rich plant foods and less meat, drank less alcohol, moved more and stayed lean.”

In addition the CUP Expert Panel pointed out that individuals who eat 3.5 ounces of red meat daily have a 17 percent higher risk of development colorectal cancer when compared with individuals who don’t eat red meat. That risk rises to 34 percent among those who eat 7 ounces of red meat daily.

Some research has also suggested that eating red meat may increase a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer, and breast cancer. In the latter category, a recent study noted that “higher consumption of red meat during adolescence was associated with premenopausal breast cancer,” and that substitute other protein sources during adolescence may reduce that risk.

Other serious health problems also are associated with red meat consumption. In a study of about 149,000 adults, the researchers looked at data from three Harvard studies and the impact of red meat consumption on the risk of type 2 diabetes. The authors discovered that compared with people who did not increase their consumption of red meat over four years, those who increased their intake of red meat by more than just one-half serving daily had a 48 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Alzheimer’s disease is yet another major health problem associated with red meat. Temple University researchers reported that a diet rich in methionine, an amino acid found in high levels in red meat, dairy foods, and fish, may increase the risk of developing this common form of dementia.

Consumption of red meat has been associated with a variety of serious health problems. This latest study suggests one more possible link: the sugar in red meat may increase one’s risk of cancer.

Farvid MS et al. Adolescent meat intake and breast cancer risk. International Journal of Cancer 2014 Sept 15
Samraj AN et al. A red meat-derived glycan promotes inflammation and cancer progression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 2014 Dec 29