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Wed 15 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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New evidence to link red meat with bowel cancer

A massive European study has found a fresh link between consuming red and processed meat and bowel cancer.

A massive European study has found a fresh link between consuming red and processed meat and bowel cancer.

For the past decade, more than half a million study participants from ten European countries had their lifestyle and dietary habits studied.

The project, named the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), found that the risk of developing bowel cancer was a third higher for those who regularly ate over two 80g portions of red or processed meat a day, compared to those who consumed less than one a week.

Since the study started in 1992, 1,329 cases of rectal and colon cancer were reported.

EPIC subjects who had eaten a lot of red meat (i.e., pork, beef, veal, and lamb) or such meat products were diagnosed with colorectal cancer more often than persons who ate only little of it.

However with fish, the findings showed exactly the opposite with those who ate a lot of fish were found to have a significantly lower colorectal cancer risk compared to those with a low fish consumption.

The consumption of poultry played no role for colorectal cancer incidence.

The scientists propose different explanations for the influence of the consumption of meat and meat products on colorectal cancer development. Recent studies suggest that the intake of iron contained in meat may contribute to risk elevation, because iron can promote the formation of harmful nitroso compounds in the body.

On average, “red” meat or meat products have a higher iron content than poultry, which may explain why consumption of the latter may not have influenced colorectal cancer risk in this study. The protective effect of fish consumption may be caused by specific long chain, polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids.

The results, published this week, confirm evidence provided by earlier studies regarding meat and meat products. They also provide renewed evidence suggesting a positive role of fish in human nutrition.

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