Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that 230,815 women were diagnosed with this disease in 2013 alone. Now, disturbing study results show that female breast cancer survivors who ate more grilled, barbecued and smoked meats had a greater risk of dying, compared to those with lower intakes. Keep reading to discover how cooking meats at high temperatures can generate dangerous toxins – and the best way to protect your health.
Warning to all breast cancer survivors: What does the research show about eating animal meat?
The study, conducted at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, followed 1,508 women diagnosed with breast cancer for a median 17.6 years. During this time, 597 deaths occurred – 237 of which were associated with breast cancer. Researchers found that having a higher intake of meats prior to the breast cancer diagnosis was associated with a 23 percent risk of dying from any cause. And, having higher amounts of grilled, barbecued and smoked meats after the diagnosis of breast cancer carried an increased mortality rate of 31 percent – a very substantial rise. Other studies have mirrored the results of the research, and shown that the incidence of certain types of cancers increases among people who eat meat cooked at high temperatures. In a University of Minnesota study, women who ate overcooked hamburgers increased their breast cancer risk by more than 50 percent compared to those who consumed their burgers rare or medium. And an Iowa Women’s Health Study found that women who regularly ate well-done steak, hamburgers and bacon had a shocking 4.62-fold increase in their risk of developing breast cancer.
Glycotoxin alert: Your method of food preparation matters
Experts say that eating foods cooked at high temperatures – through grilling, broiling, roasting, searing or frying – can expose the body to dangerous chemicals and DNA-altering mutagens known as glycotoxins, or “advanced glycation end products.” These harmful compounds are released by the “browning” reaction – the darkening that gives grilled meat its charred appearance. The browning reaction produced by cooking at high temperatures causes the release of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines, both of which are linked to cancers of the breast and prostate.
How exactly do advanced glycation end products damage the body and raise cancer risk?
Advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, not only occur naturally in foods, but can be formed in the body through normal metabolism. However, excessively high amounts in tissues and bloodstream can become pathogenic. AGEs cause tissue-damaging oxidative stress and produce chronic inflammation – factors that are at the root of degenerative chronic disease. They can also alter enzymes, hormones, antibodies and neurotransmitters – while damaging cell DNA and increasing susceptibility to cancer. And, the acronym “AGE” is an apt one. Many experts believe that these glycotoxins can trigger weight gain and even premature aging. Animal studies have shown that AGE-rich diets are associated with atherosclerosis and kidney diseases. In contrast, researchers found that reducing dietary AGEs in humans with diabetes reduced markers of inflammation and oxidative damage.
How can I reduce my consumption of AGEs?
Avoiding exposure to highly cooked foods is a good place to start. Experts recommend using “moist heat” methods of cooking, such as poaching, steaming, boiling and stewing – along with using shorter cooking times and cooking at lower temperatures. (Of course, you still want to be sure that meats are fully cooked). Interestingly, cooking with acidic ingredients – such as lemon or vinegar in marinades – can dramatically cut production of AGEs. You can also adjust your food choices to generate fewer AGEs. Animal-based foods such as meats and poultry are naturally high in AGEs – and cooking triggers the formation of even more. For example, pan-fried beef contains a whopping 9,052 kilounits of AGEs per serving – and bacon rings in at 11,905 kilounits.
On the other hand, plant-based foods such as vegetables, whole grains, fruits and nuts have much lower levels of AGEs. As a general rule, the more protein and fat a food contains, the more likely it is to be high in AGEs. Studies have shown that certain supplements, including carnosine, benfotiamine and pyridoxal-5-phosphate, can function as anti-glycation agents. And indole-3-carbinol, an anti-cancer compound found in cruciferous vegetables, can sharply reduce damage from AGEs.
If you absolutely can’t resist indulging in an occasional sizzling steak, it would probably be wise to prepare it with an acidic marinade, and generous amounts of broccoli and Brussels sprouts on the side.
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