Are we knowingly jeopardizing our collective lives? Common more to developed countries, colon cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed form of the disease. The risk in the United States is about 7%, but is based on certain factors: family history, colon polyps, and age among them. At the 2009 All-Star Game, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) posted a 48-feet-wide billboard on the highway near Busch Stadium in St. Louis proclaiming the causative nature of the lowly hot dog in colorectal disease. Why? Because processed meats have been convincingly linked to colorectal cancer.
The physicians hoped to persuade the baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, to put a warning label on hot dogs, similar to that on cigarette packs. In fact, the billboard portrayed a handful of franks posed inside a cigarette pack, which was labeled, “Unlucky Strike.” Krista Haynes, a dietitian for the PCRM’s Cancer project, stated that, “Baseball stadiums need to be frank about the cancer risk posed by hot dogs and other processed meats,” adding that, “Like cigarettes, hot dogs should come with a warning label that helps baseball fans and other consumers understand the health risks.”
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council projected that more than 21 million hot dogs would be sold at ball games that year. Two years earlier, the American Institute for Cancer Research published a report showing that just one 2-ounce serving of processed meat ingested daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 21%.
To add salt to the wound—if not to the hot dog—the PCRM filed lawsuits in New Jersey against Nathan’s, Kraft/Oscar Meyer, Sara Lee and other processors for failing to warn consumers that hot dogs increase the risk of colon cancer.
Hot dogs were probably chosen because of their ubiquity. Colorectal cancer is not the only disease linked to processed meats. So, too, are pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers. In past years, conventional medicine blamed the saturated fat content of processed meats for risk of disease, but it ignored what are probably worse offenders: toxins in the fats and, more importantly, additives.
Fats accumulate whatever toxins to which they have been exposed over the lifetime of an animal…or person. Considering that a cow eats tons of grass in its lifetime, it collects and concentrates toxicants that fell in the rainfall, were sprayed on crops ten miles away (or farther), or that showed up in its man-made supplemental feed. Heavy metals, pesticides, and even PCB’s have been found in meat, and not just from cattle.
The additives in processed meats include substances that are identified as being carcinogenic, especially the nitrites. The stuff that meat packers put into sausages and hot dogs makes a list much too detailed to be addressed in this epistle, so attention will be put on what is most likely to cause colorectal cancer. This does not necessarily apply to red meat—meat from four legs—that is unprocessed.
Nitrites and nitrates historically came into use as naturally occurring contaminants in salt. People found that meats cured with these contaminants tasted better than meats without them. After they were identified, nitrites and nitrates (synthetic, of course) were added on purpose. Both can be toxic, and have to be used carefully. Natural nitrites come from the breakdown of plant material, particularly from root crops and leaves. Celery provides a natural source, and is deemed safer than the man-made material, which is cheaper. Besides adding flavor, they act as antioxidants to prevent rancidity, and they stop bacteria from taking residence in your canned ham. Think botulism. Nitrates are not as effective as their cousins until they are broken down into nitrites by micro-organisms. The problems surface when nitrites form nitrosamines in the digestive system and get into the bloodstream to raise havoc with internal organs. The government tried to ban this ingredient in the 1970’s, but succumbed to the pressures of the meat industry, which cried that there was no alternative.
Proteins naturally break down into amines and they will mate with nitrites under the right conditions to make nitrosamines. Such exists in the environs of human stomach acid. The high cooking temperatures of frying can enhance the formation of nitrosamines. Ascorbic acid, aka vitamin C, controls the production of this compound, and has been added to some processed meats for a few years. Canadian cancer scientists discovered that adding salt to processed meats at the table further intensifies the carcinogenic nature of the initial product. In this case, the list of affected organs expands to include the stomach, bladder, kidneys, and blood (leukemia). (Hu. 2011) The possibility of stroke and coronary heart disease are other additions. (Micha. 2010)
Though it seems that simple red meat is blameless, its cooking process makes a difference. High-temperature cooking and excessive charring, especially in well-done meats from the grill, add to the burden of cancer risk. (Sinha. 1999) This means that nitrite-laden hot dogs need to escape the charring that many people find alluring.
Hot dogs and most other sausage-type meats are normally gray, just like fresh kielbasa or Italian sausage. People associate the color of their food with quality, red in the case of hot dogs. Nitrates are color fixers besides color enhancers. Since the USDA and other agencies seem more interested in promoting the interests of industry than the health of the public, we are responsible for assuming our own safety strategies. Taking vitamin C, and maybe even vitamin E, prior to a nitrite meal is a protective strategy that prevents the formation of nitrosamines. (Tannenbaum. 1989) (Tannenbaum and Wishnok. 1991)
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Aug. 2009
Hot Dogs Strike Out at All-Star Game and in New Jersey
Eur J Cancer Prev. 2011 Mar;20(2):132-9.
Salt, processed meat and the risk of cancer.
Hu J, La Vecchia C, Morrison H, Negri E, Mery L;
Canadian Cancer Registries Epidemiology Research Group.
Collaborators (8)Paulse B, Dewar R, Dryer D, Kreiger N, Whittaker H, Robson D, Fincham S, Le N.
Int J Vitam Nutr Res Suppl. 1989;30:109-13.
Preventive action of vitamin C on nitrosamine formation.
Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Jan;53(1 Suppl):247S-250S.
Inhibition of nitrosamine formation by ascorbic acid.
Tannenbaum SR, Wishnok JS, Leaf CD.
SourceMassachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139.
Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2010 Jul;3(7):852-64. Epub 2010 Jun 8.
Meat processing and colon carcinogenesis: cooked, nitrite-treated, and oxidized high-heme cured meat promotes mucin-depleted foci in rats.
Santarelli RL, Vendeuvre JL, Naud N, Taché S, Guéraud F, Viau M, Genot C, Corpet DE, Pierre FH.
SourceUniversité de Toulouse, ENVT, INRA, UMR Xénobiotiques, France.
Circulation. 2010; 121: 2271-2283
Expand+Epidemiology and Prevention
Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Renata Micha, RD, PhD; Sarah K. Wallace, BA; Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH
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