Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How Many Helpings?

"For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed."
"In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance."
Kurt Straif, MD, PhD, head, IARC Monographs Program

"IARC's [International Agency for Research on Cancer] panel was given the basic task of looking at hazards that meat could pose at some level, under circumstance, but was not asked to consider any off-setting benefits, like the nutrition that meat delivers or the implications of drastically reducing or removing meat from the diet altogether."
"Scientific evidence shows cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods and that a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle choices are essential to good health."
Barry Carpenter, president, North American Meat Institute

IARC, an agency of the World Health Organization reached the conclusion that "eating meat has known health benefits," but points out as well in a study published in the journal The Lancet that the cancer risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.The IARC also pointed out that high-temperature cooking methods (in direct contact with a flame) produce more carcinogenic compounds. Despite which, the group felt there were not enough data "to reach a conclusion about whether the way meat is cooked affects the risk of cancer."

The Lancet paper points out that red meat also contains "high biological-value proteins and important micronutrients such as B vitamins, iron and zinc." So don't abandon red meat entirely if you're not a vegetarian by conviction. Cancer research findings are notoriously questionable in that they seem difficult to test through reproduction. The American biotechnology company Amgen in 2012 found itself in the embarrassing position of being unable to reproduced 89 percent of its cancer research findings.

And an editorial published in The Lancet in August of this year made the suggestion that "much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue". In other words, intelligent conjecture based on difficult-to-assign proofs, resistant to settling the issues in question. The newly released WHO study on meat, processed meat and cancer undertaken by a 22-member global research team did not reach a unanimous decision.

"Experiments to test whether a food causes cancer poses a massive logistical challenge; they require controlling the diets of thousands of test subjects over a course of many years", observed The Washington Post, addressing the controversial issue. The British Medical Journal discovered that a third of the press releases relating to British university studies implied causation when the findings concluding the research demonstrated correlation only.

But we've all read the headlines resulting from those press releases. And they have cautioned us repeatedly not to overdo a diet heavy on processed meats, on red meats, on cooking meats over high temperatures (bacon in particular; high heat transforms chemicals used in their processing), and directly over flames as in barbecuing. Burned portions of barbecued red meat has been marked by implication in being a carcinogen. Conjecture, but reasonably so.

The thing of it is, we are required to use our common sense in evaluating the health and nutrition benefits of what we eat. Eating too much of anything tempts the gods of excess to wreak their sinister designs on the perfection of the human biological mechanism. If we mistreat our body organs they will falter and serve us ill, in turn. Our choices matter. They should be informed ones, and they should be logical ones; we know that excess of any kind is harmful, and to be avoided, for there are penalties to pay.

So, we should be aware, and many of us certainly are, and have been for an awfully long time, that occasional feeds of bacon, sausages and processed meats of the 'lunch' or 'deli' variety are to be taken frugally. The inference is made that they likely increase the risk of colorectal cancer. As does red meat; it has been pounded into our heads for long enough by nutritionists and other scientists that going heavy on a red meat diet has its consequences; not to be entirely avoided, but taken sparingly.

Three times a week doesn't sound too bad. And mind those portion sizes. "We are not saying people have to stop eating bacon, but they really should be conscious of how much they are eating. If you like bacon, try not to have three pieces. Have two, or save it for a special occasion", recommends Katie Wright, senior manager of research communications at the Canadian Cancer Society. The findings are of no surprise to Ms. Wright nor the Canadian Cancer Society, linking with the results of previous studies.

The World Health Organization had recommended the red meat and processed meat evaluation by the IARC "based on  epidemiological studies suggesting that small increases in the risk of several cancers may be associated with high consumption of red meat or processed meat. Although these risks are small, they could be important for public health because many people worldwide eat meat and meat consumption is increasing in low- and middle-income countries."


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