Nitrites in processed meat form nitrosamines, a class of potent carcinogens found in cigarette smoke, which may explain why hot dog consumption has been associated with the two leading pediatric cancers, brain tumors and childhood leukemia.
When Nitrites Go Bad,
Our story begins on a Norwegian fur farm in 1957. Mink were dropping dead left and right from a malignant new liver disease. The clue came when livestock starting dying from liver cancer as well. What tied all the cases together was the use of fish meal in their diets, fish meal that the country had just started preserving with sodium nitrite.
Subsequent research discovered nitrite, under certain circumstances, can form nitrosamines, which directly attack DNA and are universally considered one of the key carcinogens in cigarette smoke. The occurrence in food was raised as a matter of gravest concern nearly a half century ago. Now we know the nitrites added to processed meats can form these carcinogenic nitrosamines, now recognized as among the most potent of chemical carcinogens.
For example pregnant women who eat hot dogs risk having children with brain tumors, the #2 pediatric cancers. Then children, who eat lots of hot dogs, have nearly 10 times the odds of developing childhood leukemia, the #1 pediatric cancer.
Last year in Meat Science an article about the role of ham in a healthy diet breathed a sigh of relief. Aspects relating to health and wellbeing are increasingly important factors in consumer decisions…Although the great palatability of ham largely outweighs such considerations.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.
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So might not the nitrites produced in our mouths when we eat vegetables form carcinogens too? (See Priming the Proton Pump for an overview of the nitrate-to-nitrite process.) Don't worry, we're getting to that. In the meantime, what is really in hot dogs anyway? Glad you asked—see my video What Is Really In Hot Dogs?. For more on preventing brain tumors in children, see #1 Anticancer Vegetable (and the prequel Veggies vs. Cancer) and for more on preventing blood cancers, see Meat & Multiple Myeloma. And see our topic cloud for more on a thousand other topics.
For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance, Treating COPD with Diet, Eating Green to Prevent Cancer, How Chemically Contaminated Are We?, and How Tumors Use Meat to Grow