Carcinogenic Putrescine

Carcinogenic Putrescine
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Biogenic amines such as spermine, cadaverine, and putrescine are chemical compounds of decay that may have adverse health effects. Which foods are most contaminated: beer, blue cheese, feta cheese, kimchi, miso, sardines, sauerkraut, sausage, soy sauce, tempeh, tuna, or wine?

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I’ve talked in the past about the biogenic amines, like spermine and cadaverine, that can be formed in decomposing tissues. But a new review on the human toxicological effects of these substances in our diet suggests that putrescine may have carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects.

Putrescine is a chemical compound of decay that contributes to the smell of putrefying flesh, and the fishy odor of certain vaginal infections. But it’s found even in non-spoiled fish, meat, cheese, and fermented foods. We can’t stay away from it, though, unless we know which foods have the most.

Here’s a dozen commonly eaten foods they tested: beer, blue cheese, feta cheese, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, sardines, sausage, soy sauce, tempeh, tuna, and wine. Which do you think has the most? Sardines were runner-up, but the highest levels are found in tuna.

To stay away from putrescine, we should stay away from canned fish.

There’s a recommendation that we should try to stick under 40mg in a meal. So just a couple bites, a quarter of a serving of tuna, and we’re over the limit. But it would take two servings of sausages, or like ten beers, to approach the limit otherwise.

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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

I’ve talked in the past about the biogenic amines, like spermine and cadaverine, that can be formed in decomposing tissues. But a new review on the human toxicological effects of these substances in our diet suggests that putrescine may have carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects.

Putrescine is a chemical compound of decay that contributes to the smell of putrefying flesh, and the fishy odor of certain vaginal infections. But it’s found even in non-spoiled fish, meat, cheese, and fermented foods. We can’t stay away from it, though, unless we know which foods have the most.

Here’s a dozen commonly eaten foods they tested: beer, blue cheese, feta cheese, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, sardines, sausage, soy sauce, tempeh, tuna, and wine. Which do you think has the most? Sardines were runner-up, but the highest levels are found in tuna.

To stay away from putrescine, we should stay away from canned fish.

There’s a recommendation that we should try to stick under 40mg in a meal. So just a couple bites, a quarter of a serving of tuna, and we’re over the limit. But it would take two servings of sausages, or like ten beers, to approach the limit otherwise.

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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

Check out my other videos on carcinogens as well as my videos on putrescine.

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Mercury Testing Recommended Before PregnancyHarvard’s Meat and Mortality StudiesDiet and Cellulite; and Tarragon Toxicity?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

26 responses to “Carcinogenic Putrescine

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  1. Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Check out the other videos which address carcinogens and putrescine. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!

    1. Ok im beginning this journey. I had gastric by pass surgery approx 7 years ago. Am beginning to get worried. Slowly weight creeping back. Ive got a good mindset and know i can be in control but this has to be something that i can continue. Not a diet of course. I can’t wrap my head around no meat, chicken or fish either. But I’m willing to learn. How do i make sure im giving my body…post rough n y gold standard procedure what it needs so I’m not vitamin or protein deficient. I take lots of vitamins as it is. Is there aprotein suppliment i can safely take? Wasnt there something to meat protein that our bodies needed that just isn’t in veggies, beans and nuts? I have so many questions… I’m sorry but this is important to me. I have to do ablood test at the end of feb and I’ve got to get my ldl down. Don’t want to take stupid statin drug…or any drugs. I’m 56.

      1. Mary,
        You can get all the essential amino acids that you need from plant sources. Your body is capable of making the proteins needed. Concentrate on consuming high protein foods at each meal (legumes such as soy, lentils, beans …, seeds such as chia, hemp…, soy milk, quinoa). You can track your protein intake using an app on your phone to estimate how much you are getting. Your routine blood tests will also indicate your protein status. Since your stomach is smaller now, it is challenging to get enough volume of nutrient dense foods, hence the need for all the supplements. You mentioned that you are starting to gain again. That is very typical as the stomach starts accommodating by enlarging. (our bodies are amazing!) For best health, I recommend that you try to minimize meat and maximize plant protein. There are plant based protein supplements such as soy protein and pea protein, however, that is not whole food. The protein in whole food form is the way your body is designed to use it for maximum health. A visit to a dietitian that specializes in WFPB eating may be helpful. I applaud you for taking control of your health. Keep on learning! See the following link for more information on plant protein.https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/plant-protein/

  2. I like that this video has the “game show” format that other videos have had. This format is one my favorite kinds, because it gets my brain working and it is fun.

    The two biggies, were clearly the ones to talk about. What also interested me, though, was how some of the other foods played out. For example, there were two cheeses: feta and blue. One was twice the amount of the other. (But maybe at that level, neither is significant?)

    Also, there was two kinds of alchoholic drinks: beer and wine with what looks to me to be very different results.

    Another interesting thing to me about these results is the two pickled vegies (assuming I understand what they are): kimchi and sauerkraut. They are both under 40, but look to maybe be about 20? Hard to judge by the video. Assuming that these numbers are per-serving and in some cultures, one might have more than one serving a day of these foods or combine these foods with others such as say blue cheese, sausage or wine, perhaps one should be careful of these other foods too – not just the canned fish.

    I’m just having fun with the video and making some observations. Nothing to get worked up over. Thanks.

      1. Dr. Greger: Thanks for reminding me about the kimchi video. I forgot all about that.

        Wow. So interesting! One video may very well explain the other.

        Thanks.

      1. Does this hold true for raw sushi tuna?
        And how about raw shellfish?

        I am guessing for now the cooking and or canning process is
        what is causing the high levels of putrescine, no?

        Also wondering if you make it a habit of using soy sauce.

  3. Miso soup is made from a kind of infusion of Bonito (a kind of tuna I believe) that is dried, smoked and fermented. (It’s actually an infusion of both bonito and a kind of seaweed called kombu). It is soaked, like a tea, in hot water and then removed. The remaining infusion is called “dashi” and it is combined with miso and green onions and a variety of other ingredients to produce miso soup.

    Does anyone know or have a feeling for whether it is bad for you in some ways? Is simply infusing bonito into hot water toxic in some ways? Would anyone care to speculate if there is no direct evidence?

  4. Tuna fish contains LESS putrescene than any other food. The fruits that Dr. Greger strongly recommends are higher in putrescene than any other food:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3022763/figure/F0001/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3022763/table/T0002/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3022763/table/T0001/

    The big picture is that people who eat lots of fish and seafood have LONGER life expectancies than vegans in most studies.

    Putrescene appears to be relatively harmless. Meanwhile, spermine and spermadine appears to be greatly beneficial:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22250848

    1. Until you define exactly what constitutes a vegan diet and the criteria used for “most studies”, your ‘big picture’ assertion is baseless.

    2. I wonder what Dr Greger makes of these studies, I’m don’t speak medspeak, but your finds seem relevant. The only thing is that fish nowadays contains so many toxins that perhaps Dr Greger’s suggestion for b12 and omega 3 algae-derived seems like a safer alternative. I would advise you to search this site for ‘fish’ and watch the relevant videos.

      1. Oops, sorry, I wasn’t too clear there, I meant B12 supplements and Omega-3 supplements, the latter derived from algae. This for those on a vegan diet.

  5. I found this reference, which echoes one of my concerns about the studies Dr. Greger cites: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/233540871_Toxicological_Effects_of_Dietary_Biogenic_Amines

    “Laboratory studies on the effects of BA [biogenic amines] face a number of methodological problems. Most studies have focused on the effect of individual BAs administered intravenously to laboratory animals or healthy volunteers, but these results are difficult to transfer to food intake since the intravenous response is several times higher than that obtained with oral administrations [87]. Neither are the results of physiological response studies in animals always transferable to humans.”

    In fact, there is now evidence that spermidine has health promoting properties.

    For one thing, it has been shown to ameliorate degeneration of the optic nerve, which can eventuate in blindness. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2015 Jul;56(8):5012-9. doi: 10.1167/iovs.15-17142. Spermidine Ameliorates Neurodegeneration in a Mouse Model of Normal Tension Glaucoma.

    For another, supplemental spermidine prolongs the life of living organisms often used as models for longevity science. Spermidine is known as a molecule that activates a biological process called autophagy that is believed to be involved in most if not all lifespan-prolonging therapies. [Autophagy 2010] Spermidine is described as a “novel autophagy inducer and longevity elixir.” [Autophagy 2010] Inhibit autophagy and all living organisms age faster. [Cell 2011] While there are no human studies involving spermidine, centenarians are known to exhibit healthy levels of polyamines such as spermidine. [Rejuventation Research 2012].

    Finally, by far the richest food source of spermidine is wheat germ, which has more than twice as much as the next highest food source, which is soybeans. Dried beans in general have a lot. Are we to assume that wheat germ, soybeans and other legumes are potentially carcinogenic? If not, then what do we make of the studies Dr. Greger cites, suggesting that the polyamine spermidine in our diet is to be avoided or minimized?

  6. My question is regarding cheese. While I have given up cheese as a main ingredient (no more lasagna!), I wonder how bad it is to use a small amount (about 1 tbsp) of freshly grated Parmesan or (about 1.5 tsp) Feta a couple of times per week? Parmesan on an Italian dish and Feta on arugula salad (I love to saute pears, walnuts and onions in basalmic vinegar and toss that with arugula and feta). I don’t like the idea of using a soy cheese alternative, since when I looked at the packaging there were so many ingredients, and I almost never enjoy the taste of soy. That would be the only animal product I would be taking in, other than an occasional small amount of plain greek yogurt used in place of sour cream (which I have been doing for years…favorite: cilantro, lime & jalapeno blended with greek yogurt to dip avocado & black been “egg” rolls in). I would be interested in advice as to what might please the palate in a similar way…eg. I appreciate sour, tangy & salty foods. Thanks!

    1. Gomasio is a tangy cheesy salty sprinkle of sesame seeds nori and black sesame (nigella?). can make your own with less salt.
      I now culture my own cashew creams and they are more luscious than sour cream so that I must refrain from overindulgence.
      Tahina, plain (no lemon,garlic) can be thinned to a double cream consistency and tops my enchiladas etc.
      There are almond fetas on the market now: Kite Hill, I believe.
      Finally, your lovely salad combo might work with waterchestnuts or hearts of palm -nothing like feta but maybe a fun swap.

      1. Thank you so much for your suggestions! Unfortunately, I haven’t found many cheese alternatives at my local supermarkets. My family hasn’t enjoyed the few we have found. The next time I am in a larger town, I plan to visit larger markets. In the meantime, I looked into cashew cream. I used to make my own yogurt…so I will be giving cashew creams and possibly even cheese a try very soon. I will look for the Gomasio at my local natural foods store or order online, thank you for the suggestion! I have been using tahina in stir frys. I had thought I might need to give up enchiladas forever, but I will certainly try your tahina trick. I changed up my salad and pureed the caramelized pears with champagne vinegar and a touch of oil, it came out very creamy and sweet/tangy. I missed the feta a little…but the salad was still very good. I have also made a dressing from avocado and vinegar and water with no added oil. Very satisfying over my fresh greens. I made a cauliflower alfredo with just bit of Parmesan. I am now about a month in to the WFPB diet and still absorbing information like a sponge and experimenting like a kitchen chemist. I appreciate your thoughtful suggestions very much. Thank you again.

  7. This was yet another useful and informative video. Thank you.

    The putrescine content of miso, tempeh and sauerkraut is relatively low compared to tuna, sardines and other foods studied, but it is present. Do the health advantages of eating these plant-based foods – conveyed in other NutritionFacts.org videos, outweigh the disadvantages?

    NutritionFacts.org videos about Kimchi and Kombucha are informative and useful. In light that many people pickle vegetables and that these could be a practical and cheaper way to eat certain veggies year round, it would be useful to have more NutritionFacts.org content about the fermentation process from food safety and health optimizing perspectives.

    Merci!

    1. friendlyericn, you say that tempeh is low in putrescine level but according to this study (https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/36035816.pdf) which is the same study present on the video, the level of putrescine in fermented soy ( so i guess soy tempeh is one of the fermented soy product ) is much higher than others. In fact it fermented soy that contain the most, 12340mg. On the page 7/27 according to the board content evaluation. Maybe michael greger could help me see more clear about this. Thank you

  8. Not sure where to post this question so i leave it here. Can you putrefy whole grains by soaking them in water with digestive enzymes? For example, add pineapple juice or ground papaya seeds or raw honey or miso or digestive enzyme supplements? Would this be good or bad? I’m thinking of pre digesting gluten grains while soaking before cooking them to neutralize or at least reduce the gluten. Could you do this with nuts and would it be a good or bad thing? Are the trypsin inhibitors in nuts and seeds a cause for concern or are there plenty of other digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas to completely digest the nuts? Could you create a culture that can pre digest them? Also, with milk and honey, has anyone ever used raw honey to putrefy the milk and break down the milk proteins, for example casein? Is that good or bad?

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