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Can Barbecued Meat Cause Cancer?

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A reader of†Scientific American Consumer Health's Health After 50†newsletter recently asked: "Can barbecued meat cause cancer?" William Dale, MD, PhD, Director, Specialized Oncology Care and Research in the Elderly Clinic, University of Chicago Medicine, IL, answers:

Although researchers have stopped short of declaring a cause-and-effect relationship between barbecued meat and cancer in humans, they note that such a relationship has been established in animal studies and is likely to apply to humans based on research showing a positive correlation between grilled-meat consumption and cancer rates. The culprits are chemicals known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These compounds form when meats such as beef, poultry, pork or fish are cooked at a high temperature or over an open flame. HCAs and PAHs are known to cause changes in DNA, which in some people may translate to cancer, particularly breast, colon, stomach and prostate cancers. A recent study from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that the risk of renal cell carcinoma, or kidney†cancer, is associated with cooking meat at high temperatures over open flames or pan-frying. Another recent review from the World Health Organization concluded that higher amounts of processed meats and red meats, especially those cooked over an open flame, are associated with a higher risk of certain cancers, although they stopped short of saying there was a causal connection and acknowledged that red meat contains important nutrients.

Short of going completely vegetarian or minimizing red meat intake, try these tips to reduce your risk:

  • Donít put meat directly on an open flame or cook it too long on a hot surface.
  • Precook meat in a microwave to reduce the amount of time itís exposed to high temperatures.
  • Keep turning the meat while itís cooking, which reduces HCAs.
  • Marinate the meat, which can reduce the formation of carcinogenic compounds.
  • Choose lean cuts. Dripping fat fans the flames and increases charring.†

Posted in Nutrition and Weight Control on February 3, 2016


Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer


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