A recent study on sialic acid shines a bright light on an established risk factor for cancer. For many years scientists have known that long-term consumption of red meat (beef, pork and lamb) is highly correlated with promoting cancer. Researchers have looked for specific mechanisms associated with red meat that would cause human carcinomas. Grilling red meat was thought to create DNA damage due to mutagens which are chemicals that mutate DNA. However, grilling poultry and fish generate the same mutagens but neither is associated with an increased risk of cancer. So, that theory does not hold up. Red meat affects humans but does not cause cancer in carnivores so there is also something which targets only humans. Researchers studying a specific glycan seem to have stumbled upon the answer.
The research centers on a non-human form of sialic acid (Neu5Gc) that is present in significant quantities in red meat but not poultry or fish (except caviar). The human version of sialic acid is Neu5Ac or N-acetyl Neuraminic acid and this is the sugar I teach about in our classes. Researchers were able to demonstrate that while the non-human glycan is not produced by humans it does show up on human epithelial cell-surface, sugar-structures (glycoproteins). It is especially concentrated in cancerous or malignant tissues.
The only way this non-human sialic acid could be embedded on human glycoproteins is through diet. Eating red meat containing this non-human sialic acid glycan is where it comes from. That is the source. If we eat a lot of red meat, the glycoproteins on our cells can have this non-human form of sialic acid incorporated within them. The non-human sialic acid is what causes inflammation and is linked to cancer. The human form of sialic acid does not cause this type of problem. In fact, it is anti-inflammatory and actually supports the immune system. Since epithelial (surface) cells are replaced every few days, eating red meat sparingly gives the body a chance to replace this non-human form of sialic acid accumulated from the diet with the human form. This gives the body a chance to rest from inflammation and disease creation. A constant diet of red meat gives the body no time to heal.
Even though this next scientific finding is very technical I need to include it because it proves the problem with red meat. Glycosylation of dietary Neu5Gc into human tissue “makes this glycan the first example of a xeno-autoantigen which can react with circulating anti-Neu5Gc antibodies. The resulting antigen-antibody interaction is hypothesized to promote chronic inflammation or ‘xenosialitis’ which would contribute to carcinogenesis or to other diseases exacerbated by chronic inflammation…it appears that glycosidically bound Neu5Gc is the dietary source that is bioavailable for tissue incorporation and not the free monosaccharide.” Translated this study is saying that this is the first time science has seen how the glycosylation of the wrong sugar into human glycoproteins can cause chronic inflammation leading to autoimmune disease and cancer. This is monumental!
It is the long-term consumption of red meat that is linked to cancer. Because epithelial cells are replaced on a more frequent basis, short term consumption allows the cells to be replaced with cell-surface, sugar-structures containing the human version of sialic acid the majority of the time which does not lead to cancer. The longer the non-human sialic acid stays on the cell receptors, the more risk of inflammation, the generation of anti-Neu5Gc antibodies and chronic disease creation (autoimmune or degenerative).
Many healthy diets either eliminate red meat consumption or allow it only sparingly. The wisdom of this advice has just been verified and validated by the science of glycobiology! Vegetables, fruit, fish, shellfish, chicken, turkey, eggs, butter do not contain the non-human sialic acid. Caviar, beef, goat’s milk cheese, pork, bison, cow’s milk cheese, lamb and whole milk (in descending order of amount) contain the non-human version of sialic acid. These foods should be minimized.
The science of nutritional glycobiology continues to evolve. Why disease occurs is locked in the sugar code of life. We can make educated choices about how much meat we should eat because of this research. Epigenetic factors like nutrient availability rule our genes. Glycans are the language of life riding above the genes turning them on or off. We are not victims. We can change our diet and prevent disease by supporting normal, human physiology. A whole food, plant-based diet is best. But any improvement will be beneficial. We can eliminate, or at least, stop making red meat the star of our plate at every meal. Replacing red meat with clean fish and poultry is a great start. Emphasizing organic and non-GMO are essential principles. Adding vegetables and fruit and grains that are not overly-hybridized will go a long way in helping our immune system. By limiting beef, pork, lamb and pasteurized milk we reduce the risk of degenerative and autoimmune disease. If beef is going to be eaten, do it sparingly (infrequently) and make sure it is grass-fed and raised humanely. Cultures around the world that live by these principles have better health. They don’t have to know why it works to live well. But it is nice to know that science is finally validating ancient wisdom.
The foods we can find sialic acid in are the same as those for mannose: aloe vera, cranberries, blueberries, peaches, oranges, apples, green beans, tomatoes, cabbage and turnip. If your immune system is compromised you may need to supplement. Go to GRMVetted.org to request trusted sources.
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