Can we avoid the consumption of beef if we know that it promotes cancer?
..Or is the savory red meat too ingrained in the American diet and culture?
In a article published on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on December 2014 explains the process by which the consumption of red meat presents a risk of cancer for humans— but not for other carnivores.
Researchers found that the molecule responsible for the cancer initiation is Neu5Gc (N-glucolyneuraminic acid), a sugar found in most mammals, but not in humans.
The molecule Neu5Gc drew the attention of scientists after it was detected on surfaces of human tissue, and detected in even higher amounts on malignant tissue, even though humans are genetically unable to produce it.
The only possible source for its existence on our body is dietary intake.
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As humans are unable to produce it, the only possible source for its existence on our body is dietary intake!
To validate this hypothesis, the scientists first developed a test to determine the amounts of Neu5Gc in a wide variety of foods and found that foods derived from mammals (cows, goats, pigs, sheep and bison) contain moderate to high amounts of Neu5Gc, with the HIGHEST LEVELS found in BEEF.
Then, scientists used genetically engineered mice lacking the enzyme responsible of producing Neu5Gc (thus mimicking the human situation), and evaluated if the circulating molecule could cause inflammation in those mice. They discovered that mice fed with a Neu5Gc produce antibodies against Neu5Gc causing chronic INFLAMMATION.
Long-term exposure to such inflammation promotes CANCER in liver (five-fold increase) – an organ that is already prone to a baseline rate of tumor genesis and where Neu5Gc accumulates.
This observation is very similar to what would happen to humans who eat red meat and show an increased incidence of carcinomas in tissues, such as the epithelium in the colon. These people, the study shows, will be prone to a baseline rate of cancer incidence.
The Importance of this Study to Humans
Although chronic inflammation in the context of carcinogenesis and tumor progression has been studied extensively, this study shows for the first time how the presence of a molecule (Neu5Gc) and antibodies against this molecule created by humans are both NECESSARY and SUFFICIENT to induce spontaneous occurrence of cancer in humans.
Similar methods may confirm the link between red meat consumption and other diseases, such as atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes, which are also exacerbated by inflammation.
Take home message
Given that there is currently no way to neutralize the effects of the molecule Neu5Gc in humans, it is recommended to reduce the consumption of red meat, and in particular beef, to ONCE a week to avoid unnecessary risk of colon or liver cancer, triggered by the molecule intake.
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