A new study published this week in the journal Cancer Discovery has mapped the characteristics of DNA damage from a diet rich in red meat.
The study confirmed that these meats are actually carcinogenic, paving the way for early detection of the disease and the development of new treatments for it.
The result of this study does not mean that you should completely abstain from eating red meat, but rather “moderation and a balanced diet,” as recommended by an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Marius Giannakis.
And scientific research has previously proven a link between colon cancer and red meat through questionnaires about the dietary habits of people with it.
But studies of this kind are largely dependent on the data on which they are based, and in 2019 a team of researchers sparked controversy by questioning the accuracy of the statement that reducing red meat consumption contributes to reducing cancer deaths.
Marius Giannakis, who directed this new study, said in a statement to the French agency that “there is definitely a mechanism” that makes “red meat a carcinogen.”
Scientists have long discovered how cancerous tumors develop as a result of cigarette smoke, and how some ultraviolet radiation that penetrates the skin causes a mutation in genes that affects how cells grow and divide.
With this in mind, Giannakis and his colleagues sequenced the DNA of 900 colon cancer patients who were selected from a pool of 280,000 people who participated in years-long studies that included asking them questions about their lifestyle.
A recent study confirms that red meat is indeed carcinogenic, which opens the way for early detection of the disease and the development of new treatments
The importance of the approach followed by this study is that the participants did not know that they would develop this cancer, unlike those in which questions about dietary habits are asked of people who already have this disease.
And laboratory analyzes showed a specific mutation that had not previously been observed, but it was due to a type of mutation in the DNA called alkylation.
Not all cells that contain this mutation will permanently become cancerous, and they are also present in healthy samples.
However, it was found that this mutation is largely related to the consumption of red meat, whether processed or unprocessed, before the onset of the disease. In contrast, no association was shown with consumption of poultry meat, fish or other factors examined.
“Eating red meat releases chemical compounds that can cause alkylation,” Giannakis explained.
These compounds are caused by iron, which is abundant in red meat, or from nitrates, which are often found in processed meat.
It was found that this mutation is also present in abundance in the distal colon, which is a part of the colon that previous studies have indicated is strongly associated with colorectal cancer resulting from eating red meat.
In addition, the study showed that among the genes most affected by alkylation are those that previous studies have indicated are most likely to cause colon cancer when mutated.
Together, Giannakis explained, these various elements make up a solid dossier, a bit like investigative work.