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Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, January 21, 2016

Red Meat, Processed Meat, or No Meat?

by Ralph Campbell, MD

(OMNS, Jan 21, 2016) Hullabaloo about the "new" finding that bacon is bad for you might have found a reasonable level of attention but for the World Health Organization having entered the fray. [1,2] For several decades, we have known of the potential carcinogenicity of nitrates and nitrites used by the meat processing industry. Nitrites work as a meat preservative and, like rouge, make meat look "in the pink" and appear far fresher than it really is. But WHO, adding an aura of science, went and created categories of carcinogenicity: 1) Firm link 2) Probable link 3) Possible link. Processed meats were put in the Type 1 category and red meat in Type 2. Any further distinction ends here, because they lumped together naturally red meat and processed meats in their statistical analysis. That makes about as much sense as studying polyunsaturated fats without separating out trans- fats.

Of 190,000 adults studied for seven years, those eating the most processed meat such as deli meats and hot dogs had a 68 percent greater risk of pancreatic cancer than those who ate the least. [3]

Cancer-causing toxins

Soon after the scientific community first realized that exposure to toxins in our environment would prove to be carcinogenic, Dr. Bruce Ames developed a test which determined whether a substance was mutagenic for some bacteria. [4] Many chemicals and heavy metals were found to be.

More risk comes from the formation of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in charred meat from grills and barbeques. The problem is compounded by chemicals in the meat and its fat. Did the animal graze on grass laden with herbicides and pesticides? Or did it consume antibiotics, furnished in the feed lot? In both animals and humans, fat-soluble pesticides are stored, predictably enough, in fat. Considering this, shouldn't the animals' environment and feed be carefully tested? And better yet, wouldn't true organic meat fill the bill? Would a pure vegetarian diet also work? Many would hope to be able to include some meat in their diet.

If bacon is not sick to begin with, it doesn't need to be cured.

Early prevention

From the first mutagenic mishap until cancer is detectable may take years, even decades. What is currently called "preventive medicine" is only early detection. The cat is already out of the bag. Instead, a group of participants should be followed on an organic or vegetarian diet for several decades, then checked carefully for cancer. True preventive medicine should begin early in life while still healthy. We know that a sufficient level of vitamin C may stop those first mutant cells. [5] Now there's a good cost effective preventive measure everyone can use.

Children who eat one hot dog a week double their risk of a brain tumor; two per week triples the risk. Kids eating more than twelve hot dogs a month (three a week) have nearly ten times the risk of leukemia as children who eat none. [6]

Hot dog eating children taking supplemental vitamins have been shown to have a reduced risk of cancer. [7]

We have to deal with the false notion that a single substance in the human diet causes cancer. There are many types of cancer. Some are influenced by hormones. Bowel cancer development depends, in part, on how long the carcinogen is in contact with the bowel, the concept of transit time developed by Dr. Denis Parsons Burkitt. [8] By comparing the African diet with the British, he determined that dietary fiber was an important factor in decreasing transit time. We now know that fiber also creates a healthy intestinal flora or microbiome. I saw this information turn quite a few "meat and potato" folks on to whole grains, yogurt and broccoli back in the '60s.

You need the team

Since many drugs are developed to have a specific target action of either inhibiting or enhancing the action of an enzyme or other biomolecule, their short-term effects are relatively easy to determine. Not so when testing a single element of the human diet. Nutrients work in concert, so testing for an adequate dose of just one alone will not determine its true effect. Laboratory studies on mice allow complete control of the mouse environment: food, temperature, noise level, time of exercise on their little Ferris wheels, or what have you. But with our human diet, we cannot find a test nutrient that can stand alone. Your internal nutritional chemistry program has many actors.

In studies of the effects of individual vitamins, we shouldn't always expect them individually to work miracles. We must also get beyond the mentality of a magic-bullet-drug cure for cancer. True prevention is boosting health by all possible means: diet, including adequate vitamin intake; healthy gut microbiome; exercise; minimizing mental stress; avoiding processed food and food chemicals. Orthomolecular medicine principles absolutely demand adequate intake of vitamins and essential nutrients. I find folks influenced by drug advertising thinking of vitamins as just more pills. They often question whether a dose of vitamin C that is just under the bowel tolerance level can be helpful. Well, it is.

But not processed meat

We know that processed meats are bad for us, especially when taken in large portions. Recently, I've seen ads for sandwiches containing huge servings of bacon as if to convey the idea that "It may be a bit bad for you, but it is sooooo good. Come, buy!" Is it better to be satiated than healthy? How much of a bit of unhealth is OK? The tricks for those eating meat are 1) get organic and 2) don't eat a lot of it. I would suggest emulating the Mediterranean diet: make meat a condiment to go with your vegetables and other plant foods. Skip the half-pound bacon-burger. And maybe take a pass on that hot dog as well.

(Dr. Ralph Campbell, a retired pediatrician, is getting close to 90 but you'd hardly know it. He is an active orchard farmer and still sets out his own irrigation pipelines. He is the author, along with Andrew Saul, of The Vitamin Cure for Children's Health Problems and also The Vitamin Cure for Infant and Toddler Health Problems .)


1. Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton KZ et al. International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. (2015) Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. Lancet Oncol. 16:1599-1600. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(15)00444-1.


3. Nothlings U, Wilkens LR, Murphy SP et al. (2005) Meat and fat intake as risk factors for pancreatic cancer: The Multiethnic Cohort Study. J Nat Cancer Inst 97:1458-65.

4. Ames BN, Durston WE, Yamasaki E, Lee FD. (1973) Carcinogens are mutagens: a simple test system combining liver homogenates for activation and bacteria for detection. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 70:2281-22855.

5. Scanlan RA. Nitrosamines and cancer.

6. Peters JM, Preston-Martin S, London SJ, Bowman JD, Buckley JD, Thomas DC. Processed meats and risk of childhood leukemia. (1994) Cancer Causes Control. Mar; 5(2):195-202.

7. Sarasua S, Savitz DA. (1994) Cured and broiled meat consumption in relation to childhood cancer: Denver, Colorado. Cancer Causes Control. Mar; 5(2):141-8.

8. Burkitt DP. (1971) Epidemiology of cancer of the colon and rectum. Cancer. 28:3-13.

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