Red Meat and Cancer? Really?

Once again the media has hit us with headlines which make us question the food we are eating. I am all for rethinking the content of our diets, we should reduce or avoid sugars, refined grains and pre-packed meals. But what should we think of this latest ‘hit’ from the media, warning us of the perils of eating red meat and processed or cured meat?

As far as Nutritionhelp recommendations are concerned, we actually need to consider red meat and cured meats separately. Cured meats should be avoided if you are on a diet to balance intestinal microbes. Cured and fermented foods can encourage an overgrowth of intestinal yeasts, such as Candida albicans, so while on the Nutritionhelp yeast-free programme these should be avoided.

Organic red meat however, is loaded with a number of essential vitamins and minerals, and has been a key food for millennia. Is it really as bad as the media would have us believe? An article by Chris Kresser helpfully pulls together research to help build a more accurate and less sensational picture of how red meat might fit into a healthy diet. He discusses the fact that it is impossible to monitor the effect of red meat consumption, since other foods are also being eaten alongside red meat – typically white bread-rolls, chips, and large fizzy drinks. Mmmmm – I wonder what the real issue is in those diets! Along with this, microbes in the gut are frequently out of balance, and this is being researched as a possible factor in the cancer link. Nutritionhelp protocols will recommend beneficial bacteria to support the gut microbiome. Not only does this help in the battle against intestinal yeast but has been shown to encourage health generally.

For some of our clients – particularly those who are working to support arthritis, red meat may increase the joint discomfort – and this is where the nutritional approach has to be shaped for each individual. However, in general, including some organic red meat in the diet is not a problem. An extract from Chris Kresser ( helps explain why:

Let’s consider red meat. Regardless of whether consuming fresh and/or processed red meat is unhealthy, it has certainly been perceived that way for the past half-century in the industrialized world. What this means is that people in observational studies that eat more red meat also have a tendency to smoke and drink more, eat fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, exercise less, and engage in other unhealthy behaviors that could influence cancer risk. This isn’t just speculation; it has been shown in numerous studies.

For example, most Americans that eat red meat eat it with a huge bun made of white flour, with a serving or more of other refined carbohydrates (chips, fries, soda) cooked in rancid, industrially processed vegetable or seed oils. How do we know that it’s the red meat—and not these other foods—that is causing the increase in cancer?

The better observational studies attempt to eliminate the influence of these other factors, but in practice that is difficult if not impossible.

What’s more, there are certain factors that are likely to play a significant role in the relationship between any food that we eat and cancer, but to my knowledge, have never been adequately controlled for in any study.

One of these is the gut microbiome. Previous work has shown that the composition of the gut microbiota may directly affect the influence of dietary factors on cancer risk.

For example, Streptococcus bovis, Bacteroides, Fusobacterium, Clostridia, and Helicobacter pylori have been implicated in tumor development, whereas Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. plantarum, and Bifidobacterium longum have been shown to inhibit colon carcinogenesis. Other studies have found that certain species of bacteria were higher in populations with high colon cancer risk, while other species were higher in populations with low colon cancer risk. Finally, a recent paper compared the gut microbiota of 60 patients with colorectal cancer with that of 119 normal controls. The patients with cancer had significant elevations of Bacteroides/Prevotella (both species that are recognized as potentially harmful) when compared to the control group, and the difference was not affected by general patient characteristics (e.g., age, body mass index, family history of cancer), tumor size or location, or disease stage.

We still have a lot to learn about the influence of the microbiome on health and disease, but we know enough already to conclude that it is significant. It is possible—and I would argue likely—then, that the variability we see in studies showing an association between red meat consumption and cancer may be in part due to the status of the patient’s microbiome.

In other words, a patient with a dysbiotic (i.e., compromised) microbiome may be at increased risk for cancer if he or she consumes high amounts of either fresh or processed red meat. But a patient with a normal, healthy microbiome may not be.

Read the full article with references here -


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