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Head-Shrinking from Grilling Meat

A year ago I posted a two minute video entitled Carcinogens in the Smell of Frying Bacon, in which I described the ability of the fumes generated by frying meat to mutate DNA. This helped explain both the increased risk of respiratory tract cancer among cooks as well as the lower proportion of deaths from respiratory diseases and lung cancer among vegetarians.

If you are going to cook something like bacon and eggs, the barbeque people have the right idea—do it outdoors in the fresh air. Up to 10 times the amount of particles are deposited deep into the lung of individuals cooking indoors compared to outdoors.

Pregnant women, newborns, and young children may be at particular risk. In my 4-min video Meat Fumes: Dietary Secondhand Smoke I show that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the vapors released from cooking meat may not only increase the risk of cancer, but also be hazardous for fetal development. Pregnant women exposed to the grilling of meat—even if they don’t eat it—appear to give birth to babies with a weight deficit and a smaller head circumference.

Even just living next door to a restaurant preparing meat may pose a hazard. Researchers estimated the excess cancer cases expected among neighbors of various types of restaurants—Chinese, American-style, and barbeque joints. Guess which was type of restaurant was the riskiest? See my video Meat Fumes: Dietary Secondhand Smoke to find out—you may be surprised!

How else can we protect our lungs? See Preventing COPD With Diet and Treating COPD With Diet.

And how else can we protect the next generation? Feel free to check out:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

8 responses to “Head-Shrinking from Grilling Meat

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  1. would a pregnant woman want to avoid being in a kitchen where meat was being grilled, even once or twice during the length of the pregnancy?

    1. The 2012 Kracow, Poland study was really more about prenatal exposure to industrial / transport originated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs):

      Those subjects who consumed barbecued meat were exposed to much lower airborne PAHs concentrations and it resulted from the fact that majority of them (73%) lived in the city areas with lower pollution level.

      Kracow seems a fairly polluted place (prenatal PAH exposures are 10 times greater than in NYC). The Kracow mother’s PAH exposure, mostly from not-kitchen sources and measured by air sampling backpacks, could account for 1.3% of birthweight variation.

      There’s a stronger case with respect to PAH exposure and cancer incidence. A few Chinese studies (1, 2, 3, 4) found higher risk of lung-cancer and markers of DNA damage for those exposed to cooking fumes, but you’ll note that much of elevated risk is attributed to cooking oil fumes rather than just the meat.

      1. Very interesting point about cooking oil fumes. Thanks again for taking the time to provide in depth responses to people’s questions. We are lucky to have you as a contributor!

  2. Dr Greger,
    Greetings. Truly appreciate the great material on the site.
    I had one simple question about Grilling – specially with the advent of spring season.
    Do you feel that Grilling is absolutely hazardous for health and should not be done in any case (to avoid any cancerous implications) or is there a safe side to grilling (for example if we can keep the temperature below 350 degree F or keep the grilling time brief or so on).
    I love grilling however, I am seriously considering junking my grill based on what I have read/seen in some of the material on this site :-).
    Kind Regards

    1. I don’t think you need to throw away the grill. Although the smoke can be harmful depending on what you’re grilling can make a big difference. If you grill I would do it on special occasions and avoid exposing pregnant women and children to excess smoke. See more of Dr. Greger’s videos in this blog for his take, especially his video on meat fumes and smoke.

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