Researchers have revealed a mechanism that may explain how red meat increases the risk of bowel cancer. Last year research showed that the chance of developing bowel cancer is a third higher for people who eat more than two portions per day of these types of meat compared with those who eat less than one portion per week. This new study published in Cancer Research, looked for a biological mechanism which could explain the link between red meat and bowel cancer. In this study, cells taken from the lining of the colons of healthy volunteers eating different diets (meat or vegetarian), were examined to see if eating red meat had altered the DNA contained in these cells. Results showed that when a red meat diet was compared with a vegetarian diet, the levels of DNA damage increased. These harmful changes or mutations increase the likelihood of cancer. Research suggests that the DNA damage is caused by substances called N-nitrosocompounds which are formed in the large bowel after eating red meat. This mechanism may explain the association of eating red meat with bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Western countries and nearly one million cases occur each year worldwide.
Lewin MH, Bailey N, Bandaletova T, Bowman R, Cross AJ, Pollock J, Shuker DE, Bingham SA. 2006. Red meat enhances the colonic formation of the DNA adduct O6-carboxymethyl guanine: implications for colorectal cancer risk. Cancer Research. 66 (3) 1859-1865.