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Study Determines Processed Meat Increases the Risk of Polyps


Updated: August 29, 2007

Photo by Senor Codo (flickr.com)
Photo by Senor Codo (flickr.com)

A study published in the journal Carcinogenesis concluded that consuming processed meat (e.g., bacon, pepperoni, and hot dogs) can increase the risk of developing colorectal polyps. (Cancer of the colon and rectum develops from polyps.)

When they compared polyp occurrence in people who consumed the most processed meat vs. people who consumed the least, the results were pretty convincing. People who consumed the most processed meat were twice as likely to develop polyps as those who consumed the least.

What's So Bad About Processed Meat?

The researchers attributed the increased risk of polyps to the presence of nitrates (NaNO3) and nitrites (NaNO2). Both are preservatives that allow processed meat to maintain its redness. They're why SPAM is pink instead of gray. Processed meat that isn't pink, like canned tuna and chicken, doesn't contain nitrates and nitrites.

How Can You Apply This Research to Your Life?

The take-home message from this study is to limit your consumption of processed meat if you're interested in lowering your risk of developing colorectal cancer. If you know someone who practically lives off of processed meat (like my dad), you can add this research to your arsenal of reasons why that person should adhere to colon cancer screening guidelines.

Related Articles: Related Video:

If you're thinking about cutting out processed meat in favor of fresh meat, you might want to take a look at this video created by Jim Hightower. He's a radio commentator with some pretty strong opinions about a processing method some meat packers are using to keep their products looking fresh. I don't have a strong opinion either way, but you may feel different.


  1. "Nitrate/Nitrite Toxicity Exposure Pathways." Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Accessed 6 Feb. 2007 [http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HEC/CSEM/nitrate/exposure_pathways.html].
  2. Ward, M. and Cross, A. "Processed Meat Intake, CYP2A6 Activity, and Risk of Colorectal Adenoma." Carcinogenesis Published online ahead of print 2 Feb. 2007. Accessed 6 Feb. 2007.

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