Eating a lot of red meat could damage the body’s DNA and raise the risk of bowel cancer, a study says.
Previous work suggested that regular meat eaters are significantly more likely to develop bowel cancer but what caused this was not known.
Researchers led by David Shuker at the Dunn Human Nutrition Unit and the Open University, Cambridge, found it could be caused by the presence of substances called N-nitrosocompounds, which form in the large bowel after eating red meat.
They suggest that these compounds combine with DNA, and alter it so that it is more likely to undergo harmful changes or mutations that increase the likelihood of cancer, reported the online edition of BBC News.
The team, which compared a red meat diet and a vegetarian diet, examined cells from the lining of the colon taken from healthy volunteers eating different diets. They found higher levels of DNA damage in the cells taken from people eating red meat.
The discovery allowed researchers to link red meat consumption to an increased risk of bowel cancer and may give them some clues about developing a screening test for very early changes related to the disease, it said.
Large bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Western countries and nearly one million cases occur each year worldwide. Almost 17,000 people die from the disease each year.