For some time now, the WHO has considered that there is sufficient scientific evidence to consider processed meat carcinogenic (any meat that has undergone processing such as curing, smoking, drying, preserving…). What is less clear, however, is how this food increases that risk.
Nitrates and nitrites
Many explanations have been proposed for this; For example, there are quite a few studies that point to the heme iron present in meat as the source of the carcinogenic potential of processed meats (and, therefore, also of red meats, considered ‘probably carcinogenic’). This element, however, may not be the only reason that processed meat increases the chances of suffering from certain types of cancer.
Along these lines, a study carried out by researchers from several French universities and published in the International Journal of Epidemiology has analyzed the role played by nitrates and nitrites in this relationship.
These are chemical compounds that contain oxygen and nitrogen and are naturally present in water and soil, but are also used as preservatives in processed meat . For a long time, it has been theorized that its excessive consumption could slightly increase the risk of cancer due to complex chemical reactions that they produce in the body.
Be that as it may, the authors studied data obtained from the NutriNet-Santé database, which began to be collected in 2009. To estimate the exposure to nitrates and nitrites , a calculation was made from the diet that the participants had reported follow, continue.
Using this methodology, they concluded that those who consumed them in larger amounts had a 24% higher risk of breast cancer (particularly before menopause) and a 58% higher risk of prostate cancer than the general population.
Interestingly, however, no significant relationship was found between the consumption of these substances and the incidence of colon cancer , which is the type most commonly associated with the frequent intake of processed meats.
These results should be confirmed by other subsequent large cohort studies to be considered definitive. However, they delve into both the carcinogenic potential of processed meat and that of nitrites and nitrates, for which they provide evidence that supports the convenience of moderating or avoiding the consumption of the former and regulating the use of the latter in processing. food industry.