It might come as a shock to many people that meat causes cancer. Before you throw rotten tomatoes, let me say that I am not the first to make this “claim” and will not be the last. “Well then,” you might ask, “Where is the evidence to support this outlandish claim?!” Glad you asked! Let me answer that for you with some research studies and resources. Before I begin, this is not my opinion but hard facts. I am not an animal activist, only a nurse that sorts through the heavy dose of research articles out there to better inform the public on health and wellness. I will also include the resources throughout this article.
Before I begin, I will say people in America eat too much meat to begin with. Vegetables, fruit and grains are an essential and cornerstone part of health! Yes, meat has lots of protein. But guess what? So does beans, chickpeas, lentils, tempeh, tofu, and quinoa. Even if one does not eliminate meat from there diet, it would be highly beneficial (and cost effective) to significantly reduce their meat and greatly increase their fruits, vegetables, and grains. However, always check with your doctor before starting any drastic change in diet, as some medication might need to be changed if you lose weight, experience a steady and positive drop in blood pressure (if you have high blood pressure), etc.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has a subcommittee called the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC is an agency that goes through an immense amount of research articles scanning and finding the most pertinent research to help inform the public on what has the potential to cause cancer. They have an entire .pdf file full of agents classified by the IARC which can be found on their website. See below a table of how they group agents.
|Group 1||Carcinogenic to humans||120 agents|
|Group 2A||Probably carcinogenic to humans||82|
|Group 2B||Possibly carcinogenic to humans||311|
|Group 3||Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans||500|
Anything from H. Pylori to asbestos to plutonium is on that list. Keep in mind that this shows how strong the research correlates the agent with cancer. For example, plutonium and radon are a group 1 agent. That means that there is sufficient evidence to say that those agents can cause cancer.
With that being said, would you like to take a guess where processed meat falls? It is also a group 1 carcinogen. That means that there is enough evidence to say, “This agent can cause cancer to humans.” Well one might say, “Wait a minute, that is processed meats, not red meat.” I’m getting to red meats momentarily. However, processed meats are the most widely available and most affordable. Bacon, cured meats, canned meats, lunch meats, hot dogs, sausage, are all examples of processed meats. Open your fridge and you likely have that in there. This does not mean processed meat is just as cancerous as radon. It just means that the evidence is as strong and sufficient to say that processed meat can cause cancer, just like radon, and plutonium can cause cancer because of their strong research.
With that being said, we do not know how much meat each person must eat in order for it to cause cancer. It depends on age, how genes “react” to the food, immune system strength, how often meat is consumed, etc. For all we know, processed meat might become cancer upon consumption, yet its impact is too minimal for us to realize. Harvard school of public health has a good question and answer discussion from a member of the IARC talking more about how their classifications work. You can find that here.
Red meat (beef, lamb, pork, veal, mutton) is considered a group 2A. That means that there is evidence that says it is probably carcinogenic to humans.
So where is the evidence to support these claims?
In 2016, a study was published that found an “association between larger intake of red meat and cancer, especially with colorectal, lung, esophageal and gastric malignancies. Increased consumption of processed meat was also found to be associated with colorectal, esophageal, gastric and bladder cancers.” This study can be found here.
In 2018, a study was done that found that high processed meat consumption is associated with an increased risk in breast cancer. That study can be found here.
Another study in 2014 was done researching the link between cancer and red meat. In the study showed “data to support a role of red and processed meat in colorectal cancer, as well as some evidence for other cancers sites, including esophagus, liver, kidney, and prostate.” This study can be found here.
A short but powerful journal was written in 2018 with dozens of articles and their conclusions all written down on one page. If you don’t look at the other articles, I would strongly suggest you look at this one here.
Now, there may be some of you who have read an “article” stating that meat is okay, or more research is needed and inconclusive on whether meat is carcinogenic or not. However, it is important to look who is funding those studies. Most studies are done independently so it prevents any favor and keeps the article unbiased. Thus you get true and untainted information.
However, if the study is funded by an association that is against what is being written, then the study will likely favor the association that funded them. Basically, the people who write the article gets paid to say great things about a product, and manipulate the evidence in an effort to promote the one who is funding them. A great example is this study here. This is an article discussing the association between red meat consumption and colon cancer. Guess who provided financial support for this article: The National Cattleman’s Beef Association. So NCBA provided funding to find a correlation between beef and cancer. The result? “…There is currently insufficient evidence to confirm a mechanistic link between the intake of red meat as part of a healthy dietary pattern and colorectal cancer risk.”
NCBA would never provide funding to a study that would say “Red meat causes cancer.” That would destroy their business. So they further confuse the public by saying “insufficient evidence.”
My best advice as a person who works in healthcare is heavily consider and research the information out there. However, the best thing one can do for their health (based on the overwhelming evidence present) is to heavily reconsider that steak and hot dog.
Here is an excellent podcast on the meat-cancer connection. It’s 52 minutes long but worth listening to over and over again. It can be found here.
Live healthy and happy! And always remember: Prevention is the best mode of treatment!