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When Nitrites Go Bad

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.

February 24, 2012 |
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Acknowledgements

Images thanks to the CancerProject.org and Ben Grey.

Transcript

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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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

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 PerformanceTreating COPD with Diet, Eating Green to Prevent CancerHow Chemically Contaminated Are We?How Tumors Use Meat to GrowAvoid Cooked Meat Carcinogens, and  Should We Avoid Titanium Dioxide?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    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.

    • http://www.facebook.com/emilie.gagniermarandola Emilie Gagnier-Marandola

      I was wondering if cold cuts labelled “natural” and containing cultured celery extract is a healthy alternative to processed meats, or if the added nitrites through the extract has the same effect as regular processed cold cuts.

      • Linda

        Yes, I am curious about this too. There a major availability of “naturally” cured meats now.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/jonk/ JonK

    I’m curious as to whether nitrite Carcinogens from these meats can also be absorbed from skin contact. I work as a cook at pizza hut and am concerned about my health from coming in contact with the ham and pepperoni. I would also like to thank you for posting all of your videos, it has helped me improve my eating habits and health knowledge!

  • rhinokitty

    What software do you use to produce your videos Dr. Greger?

    • Michael Greger M.D.

       Keynote (the mac version of powerpoint)

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance!