The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) reports that eating more than 18 ounces of red meat per week increases the risk of colon cancer. Red meat is defined as beef, lamb and pork. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies red meat as a Group 2A carcinogen, meaning it probably causes cancer. Even worse are processed meats like bologna, hot dogs, deli meats, ham and bacon. They are classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that if you eat them regularly, they will cause cancer. Fish and chicken are exempt from any classification–they do not cause cancer.
For years, researchers thought the problem was grilling the meat and creating the black char everyone loves to eat. That hypothesis was disproved because grilling fish and chicken does not cause cancer. Researchers had to go back to the drawing board to figure out why long term eating of red meat caused cancer.
The answer came unnoticed from the science of glycobiology in 2015. The study is referenced in my book. Sialic acid is one of the eight sugars incorporated on the surface of cells within our body. All cells are surrounded by sugar antennas made of these eight sugars. There is an animal version of sialic acid and a human version. They are very similar in nature (see more details and a diagram of the minor difference in the Wellness Support Group webinar entitled Red Meat and Cancer).
Glycobiology scientists were able to demonstrate an important that the animal version of sialic acid was incorporated on the sugar antennas instead of the human version. Surface cells located in the digestive tract last only a few days before being replaced. If the individual consumed red meat on a regular basis, the animal version of sialic acid flooded out the human version our bodies normally create. When this non-human sugar is used on new cells lining the gut, it becomes inflammatory over time and leads to the development of colon cancer. Since humans do not have the gene that allows the production of the animal version of sialic acid, researchers knew it had to be coming from the food people were eating. Only red meat contains this specific version of sialic acid leading to cancer in humans.
Researchers realized that people could eat red meat occasionally, but warned against consuming it regularly. If adequate time was given, the body could clear out the animal version of sialic acid and create new cells with the human version. Cancer could be thus avoided. It was the continuous consumption of red meat that led to an inflammatory condition resulting in colon cancer.
The knowledge supplied by the science of glycobiology allows us to make intelligent nutritional decisions. As far as the animal version of sialic acid is concerned, we can eat fish and chicken and not worry about colon cancer. We can eat hamburgers and red meat sometimes. Eat it sparingly. Don’t let it be the star of your plate every day. Take a week’s break before you eat it again. Avoid processed meats as much as possible. Of course, being vegetarian or vegan avoids the problem all together. Allow the body to heal properly and we can dramatically reduce the risk of colon cancer.
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