Estrogenic Cooked-Meat Carcinogens

Estrogenic Cooked-Meat Carcinogens
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DNA-damaging chemicals, formed when meat is cooked, stimulate breast cancer cells almost as much as pure estrogen, and can infiltrate the ducts where most breast cancers arise.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In the 1990s, two international studies found an association between breast cancer, and intake of fried meat and broiled meat, in Finland and Uruguay. In 2000, researchers in Iowa identified the probable culprit: a heterocyclic amine abbreviated PhIP.

Heterocyclic amines are a “class of ubiquitous mutagens found in cooked meats, poultry, fish, and [cigarette] smoke.” The effect was confirmed on Long Island, and extended to grilled barbecued and smoked meats. But, why more breast cancer risk? Well, these cooked meat carcinogens are mutagenic—meaning they damage DNA. In fact, you can directly correlate the number of DNA mutations in human breast tissue with estimates of dietary intake. 

They asked women undergoing breast reduction surgery about their meat-cooking methods, and found that the intake of processed, fried, and stir-fried meat were correlated with the number of DNA mutations they found subsequently in their breast tissue. But, we already knew these chemicals damaged DNA. What surprised everyone was that not only may these meat chemicals trigger the original cancer-causing mutation, they may then promote the growth of the ensuing tumor, as PhIP was discovered to be “a potent estrogen.”  

They dripped the kinds of levels of PhIP you’d expect in your body after eating cooked meat, and found that it activated estrogen receptors almost as powerfully as straight estrogen. And, that’s what they found when they tried it on breast cancer cells. They found its proliferative potency on human breast cancer cells approaching that of pure estrogen.

They concluded that “PhIP possesses oestrogenic activity at low concentrations… supporting the idea that exposure to PhIP, even at low doses, could result in oestrogenic effects. We suggest that the well-established and unequivocable genetic toxicology of PhIP coupled with its oestrogenic activity could drive clonal expansion and promote growth of the initiated [initial cancer cell].”

These were breast cells in a petri dish, though. I mean, how do we know these carcinogens make it from cooked meat, not only into the breast, after you eat it, but into the breast ducts, where most breast cancers arise—so-called ductal carcinoma? We didn’t know for sure, until this study, which measured the levels of PhIP in the breast milk formed in those ducts of nonsmoking women.

And, the average concentration they found in the breast milk of meat-eating women corresponds to about right here on this graph—significant breast cancer cell growth potential. One of the women was vegetarian, though, and of course, none was detected in her breast milk.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to euthman via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In the 1990s, two international studies found an association between breast cancer, and intake of fried meat and broiled meat, in Finland and Uruguay. In 2000, researchers in Iowa identified the probable culprit: a heterocyclic amine abbreviated PhIP.

Heterocyclic amines are a “class of ubiquitous mutagens found in cooked meats, poultry, fish, and [cigarette] smoke.” The effect was confirmed on Long Island, and extended to grilled barbecued and smoked meats. But, why more breast cancer risk? Well, these cooked meat carcinogens are mutagenic—meaning they damage DNA. In fact, you can directly correlate the number of DNA mutations in human breast tissue with estimates of dietary intake. 

They asked women undergoing breast reduction surgery about their meat-cooking methods, and found that the intake of processed, fried, and stir-fried meat were correlated with the number of DNA mutations they found subsequently in their breast tissue. But, we already knew these chemicals damaged DNA. What surprised everyone was that not only may these meat chemicals trigger the original cancer-causing mutation, they may then promote the growth of the ensuing tumor, as PhIP was discovered to be “a potent estrogen.”  

They dripped the kinds of levels of PhIP you’d expect in your body after eating cooked meat, and found that it activated estrogen receptors almost as powerfully as straight estrogen. And, that’s what they found when they tried it on breast cancer cells. They found its proliferative potency on human breast cancer cells approaching that of pure estrogen.

They concluded that “PhIP possesses oestrogenic activity at low concentrations… supporting the idea that exposure to PhIP, even at low doses, could result in oestrogenic effects. We suggest that the well-established and unequivocable genetic toxicology of PhIP coupled with its oestrogenic activity could drive clonal expansion and promote growth of the initiated [initial cancer cell].”

These were breast cells in a petri dish, though. I mean, how do we know these carcinogens make it from cooked meat, not only into the breast, after you eat it, but into the breast ducts, where most breast cancers arise—so-called ductal carcinoma? We didn’t know for sure, until this study, which measured the levels of PhIP in the breast milk formed in those ducts of nonsmoking women.

And, the average concentration they found in the breast milk of meat-eating women corresponds to about right here on this graph—significant breast cancer cell growth potential. One of the women was vegetarian, though, and of course, none was detected in her breast milk.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to euthman via flickr

Doctor's Note

This is the first of my four-part video series on heterocyclic amines, those DNA-damaging chemicals formed in cigarette smoke, and when mammal, bird, and fish muscles are cooked. I’ve covered them previously in Muscle Tremors & Diet; Fast Food Tested for Carcinogens; and Carcinogens in Roasted Chicken?

Carcinogens tend to either initiate, or promote cancer—rarely both. Not only may heterocyclic amines trigger the original mutation, and help the tumor grow; they may also aggravate cancer invasiveness—which I cover in PhIP: The Three Strikes Breast Carcinogen.

Also, be sure to check out my associated blog posts for more context: Mushrooms for Breast Cancer PreventionEstrogenic Chemicals in MeatAvoiding Cooked Meat CarcinogensFoods that May Block Cancer FormationShould We Avoid Titanium Dioxide? and Breast Cancer & Alcohol: How Much is Safe?

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

34 responses to “Estrogenic Cooked-Meat Carcinogens

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  1. You make it so much easier to not only walk uphill, but run uphill with you heading the charge.
    What are we UP against? Big Pharma, Big Ag, and Big Business with Greed ruling the whole bunch!




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  2. Dr. Greger,
    As a natural nutritionist I must say you are doing a fantastic job in educating about how food works in the body, something medicine has ignored for so long.
    Thank you very much for your excellent work, most impressive and informative, easily understood food facts at NutritionFacts.org.




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    1. There are few studies done on Phips and prostate cancer in
      men. The study by Amanda J. Cross et.al. 2005 showed that consumption of very well done meat (>10 grams daily) increased the risk for prostate cancer. Out of all the heterocyclic amines, Phips tends to be one of the most readily absorbed into the body. The mechanism of mutagenicity is similar to that found in breast tissue, where it exhibits estrogenic activity and increases formation of DNA adducts. Cooking meat at high temperature until it’s well done increases Phips formation but not very many people cook their steak that way. The study also mentions that greater Phips intake can occur when consuming less well done meat but more frequently.
      Microwaving, boiling, and steaming produces very low levels
      of HCA’s whereas using fats and oils to cook meat greatly increases HCA formation. A study by Cynthia P. Salmon et.al. (2000), suggests cooking meat at lower temperature with frequent turning over can lower the amount of Phips formed.

      1. Amanda J. Cross, Ulrike Peters, Victoria A. Kirsh, et al., A Prospective Study of Meat and Meat Mutagens and Risk, Cancer Res 2005;65:11779-11784
      2. Saida Robbana-Barnat, Maurice Rabache,Emmanuelle Rialland, and Jacques Fradin, Heterocyclic Amines: Occurrence and Prevention in Cooked Food, Volume 104, Number 3, March 1996 * Environmental Health Perspectives
      3. Cynthia P. Salmon, Mark G. Knize, Frances N. Panteleakos, Rebekah W. Wu, David O. Nelson and James S. Felton, Minimization of Heterocyclic Amines and Thermal Inactivation of Escherichia
      coli in Fried Ground Beef, JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2000) 92 (21): 1773-1778.




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      1. Thanks for the research.

        However, not hugely convincing (in men): your reference #1: “the highest quintile of PhIP was associated with a 1.2-fold increased risk of prostate cancer”…not nearly as shocking as in women.

        “More than 10 g/d of very well done meat, compared with no consumption, was associated with a 1.4-fold increased risk of prostate cancer. Total, red, or white meat intake was not associated with prostate cancer risk.”

        Most men are not vegetarians…best advice is to not eat the burned tips, but that eating meat by itself, even well done meat, does not raise prostate CA risk. I think colorectal cancer may be more of an issue.

        I advise people to use Mediterranean marinades to reduce HCAs and PhIP…with rosemary, the marinades drop HCA production by 87%: one study: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070627124111.htm




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      2. Very nice succinct summary. Thank you.

        A diet high in red meat has also been associated with an elevated
        risk of colorectal, lung, esophageal and liver cancer. http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040325 At least according to food frequency recall questionnaires, which as you know, are not an optimal method for testing hypotheses (IMO, this sort of epidemiologic research generates them, rather than tests them)

        I think the goal is to make meat eating safer, healthier, smarter, more flavorful: I think those positive associations will work better than finger-shaking in cancer prevention.

        However, the estrogenic activity of HCAs is interesting to me, and the conflicting studies on prostate CA make me wonder…are there estrogenic effects of HCAs or PAHs in men?




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        1. Hi Dr. La Puma,

          I agree that most men are not currently vegetarians. However, you are in a unique position to help change that. The reason that most men are not currently vegetarian is complex and varied and too much to go into in this post, but the science clearly shows that a whole food plant based diet is optimal for the prevention of chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer,
          stroke, diabetes and more. So, rather than using your formidable skills as a medical doctor and chef to teach your patients,
          readers and viewers to make meat recipes that are safer, healthier, smarter and more flavorful, why not take this opportunity to be on the forefront of both medical and culinary science by giving them information and recipes based on the whole truth?

          I understand you want to marinade meat in order to reduce the HCAs and PhiPs. Perhaps, though, instead of simply reducing HCAs, by marinating meat, you could marinade extra-firm tofu, tempeh or portabella mushrooms or use your unique blend of herbs and spices to make signature bean or lentil, whole grain and nut burgersor patties, thus completely eliminating HCAs, PhiPs, saturated fat, cholesterol and endotoxins, while also adding beneficial fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals to your patient’s diets.

          Besides the HCAs and PhiPs, there is a wide variety of reasons for all people to avoid animal products. Here are just a few that might interest you in your research:

          Chicken vs. Veggie Chicken: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/chicken-vs-veggie-chicken/

          Here’s a video comparing the airborne mutagens in bacon, beef and tempeh (tempeh has none): http://nutritionfacts.org/video/carcinogens-in-the-smell-of-frying-bacon/ and here’s the study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7590526

          Estrogen in Meat, Dairy and Eggs: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/estrogen-in-meat-dairy-and-eggs/

          Dairy Estrogen and Male Fertility: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/dairy-estrogen-and-male-fertility/

          Vegan Men: More Testosterone But Less Cancer: http://nutritionfacts.org/2013/02/12/less-cancer-in-vegan-men-despite-more-testosterone/

          Prostate Cancer and Organic Milk vs. Almond Milk http://nutritionfacts.org/video/prostate-cancer-and-organic-milk-vs-almond-milk/

          The Exogenous Endotoxin Theory: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-exogenous-endotoxin-theory/

          I have found that despite the social pressure for men to eat meat because it is “manly”, when presented with the scientific evidence, many men (including my own father, husband, ex-husband and 8-year old son), will make the switch to a whole foods plant-based diet.

          There is now a course in plant-based cooking online at Rouxbe Cooking School, which you might want to check out for inspiration. http://rouxbe.com/cooking-courses/plant-based-cooking-level-1/details. There is also a plant-based course at The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts http://naturalepicurean.com/ and at Matthew Kenney http://www.matthewkenneycuisine.com/education/curriculum/curriculum-overview/?gclid=Cj0KEQiA6ounBRCq0LKBjKGgysEBEiQAZmpvA3osXCNE4bnQXHK3axxyAD-UHcZKS1dWIe0hAMeHKC0aAg0w8P8HAQ (which is also an amazing raw food restaurant in LA – please check it out if
          you get the opportunity!).

          If you are interested in research on diet and prostate cancer, Dean Ornish just published a study on how a plant-based diet can actually reverse early stage prostate cancer. Here’s the study: http://ornishspectrum.com/wp-content/uploads/Intensive_Lifestyle_Changes_and_Prostate_Cancer.pdf.

          Like you, I also teach nutrition and cooking classes. Please feel free to contact me if there is anything I can do to help you to incorporate more whole plant-based recipes into your curriculum. I’m available at http://www.emilyhoneycutt.com.

          Best wishes on your continued success,

          Emily :)




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          1. Thank You, Emily, this is an amazing response, I do NOT agree on consumption of tofu and soy products for either gender. Highly estrogenic and hard to digest and interfere with thyroid function.




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      3. RPH1978 thanks for that info… I am particularly interested in this line: “Microwaving, boiling, and steaming produces very low levels of HCA’s whereas using fats and oils to cook meat greatly increases HCA formation.” First, may I please ask, what was the source(s) for the info about levels of HCA from MICROWAVING… and when you wrote that “using fats and oils to cook meat greatly increases HCA formation” were you referring only to frying and deep frying, like on a stove — OR if (for example) fish or chicken were MICROWAVED in a sauce containing some (e.g.) olive oil, would that inclusion of a fat also markedly increase HCA formation, even though the meat was being MICROWAVED? And 2nd, have you seen anything about the levels of HCA that are formed when TURKEY is cooked? For years we were warned that red meats are more harmful/ risky than white meats… so I was startled to see that studies show that the worst levels of HCA formation happen when chicken and fish are cooked… so I am wondering about TURKEY- for example, I was thinking that the sliced “organic roasted turkey breast” I have been buying was (relatively) safe… but that was before I read about the HCA levels in cooked chicken… have you seen anything about HCA levels in TURKEY? (1st question is about MICROWAVING, 2nd question is about TURKEY.) Thanks!




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        1. One thing I’ve come across is that studies are inconsistent and variable. For example, marinating meat (chicken,beef, pork) prior to cooking can reduce heterocyclic amine (HCA) formation regardless of the cooking method. In addition, tumeric-garlic and teriyaki marinades showed decreases in HCA whereas honey based marinade showed an increase in HCA. This may not be surprising since glucose in honey is a precursor to HCA in small amounts whereas excess amount of glucose added to meat prior to cooking appears to inhibit HCA. Food Chem Toxicol 30:681-688 (1992).On the other hand, there was no reduction in HCA formation in marinated or non-marinated salmon. So it seems to depend on the type of meat and marinade. (Journal of Food Compost Anal. 2010 February 1; 23(1): 61–69) Microwaving beef for 1, 1.5, 2 or 3 min before frying at either 200 degrees C or 250 degrees C for 6 min per side has been shown to reduce heterocyclic aromatic amine precursors (creatine, creatinine, amino acids, glucose). Food Chem Toxicol. 1994 Oct;32(10):897-903. Creatine in muscle meat seems to be an important precursor to the formation of HCA where creatine forms part of the phips molecule.
          I should clarify that certain fats such as butter and rapeseed oil (after frying of beef) can increase HCA whereas other fats such as sunflower seed oil and margarine has been shown to reduce HCA and this was explained by the fact that these oil contain antioxidants such as vitamin A and E. (Food Chem Toxicol. 1995 Dec;33(12):993-1004 The same was found with olive oil (Food Chem Toxicol. 2003;41(11):1587-1597) when burgers where fried in the oil there was less HCA. Again, this was thought to be due to the polyphenol content of olive oil. Other studies have shown that adding garlic,
          onions, dried plum and even cherries to the beef patties resulted in less HCA after cooking. (Natural Medicine Journal 7/1/2010) Since turkey is similar to chicken,
          any meat cooked at high temperature increases the HCA content. One study (Meat Science 85 (2010) 149–154) showed that roasted chicken and duck meat formed
          significantly lower HCA than pan-fried, grilled or deep fried meat.




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    2. Hello John – In the excellent Book “On food and Cooking-The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” by Harold McGee he states page 187: “Certain cooking processes transform the proteins and related molecules in meat and fish into highly reactive products that damage DNA and may thereby initate the development of cancers. So the rule for cooking meat also holds for cooking fish: to minimize the creation of potential carcinogens; steam, braise and poach fish rather than grilling,broiling or frying it.” He adds: ” If you do use high heat, then consider applying a marinade whose moisture, acidity and other chemical qualities reduce carcinogen production.” On page 124 he talks about the actual chemicals involved in the cooking of meats. This is a well researched book and as a nutritionist advising cancer patients; I find it invaluable. Grace




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      1. Hi, Grace: yes, McGee’s books are terrific. Shirley Corriher’s are too.

        Several marinades, however, have been tested and been shown to reduce HCA formation in the meat by up to 87% (I cover them in my blog and ChefMD book).

        This is still different (though worthwhile) than an increase in actual cancers in men who eat high temperature grilled/cooked meats: that’s what I’m curious about.




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        1. Why not just stop eating animal meat? I don’t get all the work arounds. Stopping meat consumption is clearly better for us, the animals and the planet – I don’t “get” why we continue to fight this obvious fact so we can continue to eat something that is completely unsustainable to the health and well being of the home we all share. I “get” it seems hard, but it will be harder in 50 years for all the people coming after us that have to live in an increasingly un-inhabitable place.




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          1. Lack of correct nutrition/diet/lifestyle education. Strong ties to food or to culture which can often be created/used by companies! Food trumps people’s health, lives and the environment for many people.. Confusion/doubt created by industries and misinformation everywhere doesn’t help.. Most people don’t know how powerful diet/lifestyle is and overestimate efficacy of drugs (& surgery too?) as Dr.Greger said in a video somewhere.. Lucky Nutritionfacts is here to walk through the research..




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  3. Wow, the power of the information in your video summaries on current nutritional/health science never ceases to amaze me. The information you share with us, gives me hope that we can improve our health without invasive or expensive interventions. Thank you!




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  4. Hi Dr Greger! Can I start by saying thank you for the great information you share. Can you please help? My sister has Urachal carcinoma in her Lungs! The Doctors are running out of ideas and the treatments have helped but are becoming Ineffective. Can you please offer any advice?




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    1. Hi @davestimes…I am director of a cancer Institute in Australia and I host a US based show called navigating the cancer maze on Voice America. I strongly suggest you look at Hallwang private oncology clinic in germany and prof Thomas Vogl. Best of luck to you and your sister. Grace Gawler




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  5. Dr. Greger – this is interesting, but I am wondering whether you are aware of any studies indicating that women who have eaten a vegetarian/vegan diet most of their lives are, if unfortunate enough to develop breast cancer, more likely to be diagnosed with the more aggressive triple negative breast cancer which is not affected by estrogen?




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    1. I have worked in the area of cancer for almost 40 years, pioneering the first edcative support groups in Australia & I’ve worked with around 15,000 patients globally. The majority of people who have sort or seek my services have been leading good lifestyles, many vegertarians, vegans, those who ate meat in moderation; juicing advocates, raw food avocates, sports people. My patients were not obese, most did not drink alcohol and were not smokers. The majority of breast cancer patients I see are hormone receptive. There certainly is an increase in the diagnosis of triple negative breast cancers – but in my demograhic of several thousand Breast cancer patients – there does not appear to be a link with diet that everyone reports in the research… My patients get personalised care and complete surveys that allows us to see a lot of lifestyle information pre cancer. There is certainly more to this than meets the eye!




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      1. Would be good to get more info.. E.g. what fraction were veg/vegan of the people you’ve seen.. How the rates compare, what types of cancers, how serious and so on.. Plus I wonder how much plastic and other things they’re using? Or the age of the people in various groups you’ve seen? How long they’ve been living a certain diet/lifestyle and so on? Their weight, dairy, eggs, meat, fruit/veg intake and so on?

        And also interesting to see how your data correlates with what we already know about incidence of disease in vegans versus vegetarians versus meat eaters and longevity and so on? Are you getting the sickest of each group for example..

        I too live in Australia (Brisbane)!




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  6. Can you give us some information about the relationship of so-called clean fish and feta cheese and eggs to breast cancer progression or aggressiveness? ( in a post menopausal woman)




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    1. Hi Roby,

      Is this for you or for a patient? If it’s for you, I’m so sorry to hear of your diagnosis. My husband was diagnosed with colorectal cancer this past year and we also looked into Protocel, after reading a detailed account of it in the book, Outsmart Your Cancer by Tanya Harter Pierce. However, after searching PubMed and consulting with cancer researcher Ralph Moss, PhD at http://www.cancerdecisions.com, we found that there are no scientific studies on this alternative treatment. Dr. Moss advised against taking it as there are other alternative treatments that can be an effective adjunct to traditional treatment that have studies to support their success.

      We have many videos on diet and breast cancer here: http://nutritionfacts.org/?s=breast+cancer.

      I suggest an integrative approach, utilizing the best of western medicine, along with a whole food plant-based diet with the addition of hibiscus, white or green tea, cooked mushrooms and herbs and spices (India has one of the lowest rates of breast cancer in the world), along wtih exercise and plenty of love and support, rest and relaxation and some kind of spriritual practice and/or meditation, I recommend the books, Radical Remission by Kelly Turner, PhD and Love and Survival by Dean Ornish, MD.

      My mom had stage I breast cancer just three years ago. She had surgery and she and my dad have been following a plant-based diet ever since and loving it. All her scans have been fine.

      Everyone’s journey is different, but a whole food plant-based diet is one essential tool in your tool belt in fighting cancer. While I have read of a few people online with testimonials who have had success with Protocel, there are no scientific studies for it at this time, so I cannot recommend it.

      Thanks so much for the question.

      Emily




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  7. For years I’ve been wishing a site like this existed and only just now have I discovered it. Thank you for all your work! I’m sharing this site with everyone I know. I myself have a lot of catching up to do!




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    1. DStack: Welcome to the group!

      I agree, this is an awesome site. It can also be a big overwhelming now that Dr. Greger has supplied us with so many videos. The short, daily videos are wonderful ways to start the day and can get into some good detail. However, just in case you haven’t seen them, I thought I would also point you to Dr. Greger’s two year in review longer video summaries. They are entertaining and *packed* with good info. And also great to share with others. Here they are in case you are interested:

      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/more-than-an-apple-a-day-preventing-our-most-common-diseases/

      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/uprooting-the-leading-causes-of-death/

      Just a tip. Welcome aboard.




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  8. I am speechless as to how poisonous our food supply is, I try hard to eat healthy, and I consume a lot of baked chicken. Now I will have to substitute it with something else. I’ve always been somewhat heatlh conscious, as they say knowledge is power and I pay more attention now that I am 50 and in good health. I try to read a lot about our food supply and how I can stay as healthy as I possibly can, but I’ve stumbled on to some pretty disturbing information and finding out more and more everyday.




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  9. a person I know(non-smoker) ended up with breast cancer within 2 years of going on a diet which mainly consisted of animal protein, and avoiding carbs including fruit and vegetables.
    I do wonder if it was to do with the diet, whether or not it helped the cancer to spread.




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