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Meat and dairy consumption linked to higher risk of cancer

A new study from Tel Aviv University reveals that there is a direct link between diet and cancer risk. An international team of researchers has found that meat and dairy products are associated with the development of antibodies that increase the chances of developing cancer. 

According to the experts, the findings may explain the high incidence of cancer among individuals who consume large amounts of dairy products and red meat, which is similar to the connection between high cholesterol and heart disease.

The investigation was focused on Neu5Gc, a sugar molecule that is found in the tissues of mammals, but not in poultry or fish. Humans develop antibodies to Neu5Gc early in life – when they are first exposed to dairy and meat products. 

Even though these antibodies are known to increase the risk of cancers such as colorectal cancer, they had not been directly linked to meat and dairy consumption prior to the current study.

The team measured the amount of Neu5Gc sugar in a variety of foods that are common in the French diet and calculated the daily Neu5Gc intake of nearly 20,000 adults aged 18 and over. The study subjects had reported all of their food intake online over a period of several days as part of the NutriNet-Santé, a national nutritional survey conducted in France.

A representative sample of 120 participants were selected for blood testing so the researchers could examine the levels of the anti-Neu5Gc antibodies in their blood.

Based on the results, the team created an index called the Gcemic index, which ranks foods that can lead to an increase in the antibodies – and possibly to a subsequent increase in the risk of cancer.

“We found a significant correlation between high consumption of Neu5Gc from red meat and cheeses and increased development of those antibodies that heighten the risk of cancer,” said study lead author Dr. Vered Padler-Karavani. “For years there have been efforts to find such a connection, but no one did. Here, for the first time, we were able to find a molecular link thanks to the accuracy of the methods used to measure the antibodies in the blood and the detailed data from the French diet questionnaires.”

According to Dr. Padler-Karavani, the researchers predict that individuals who eat a lot of red meat and cheese will develop high levels and different varieties of the antibodies, which may place them at a higher risk for cancer.

The study is published in the journal BMC Medicine.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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