Red Meat Increases Risk of Liver Cancer

When we think of a healthy diet, it usually includes a very moderate consumption of red meat.  There may be another reason to avoid red meat all together.  According to a study by the National Cancer Institute, red meat may now be linked to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or liver cancer.

Liver cancer is the third most cause of mortality worldwide and the sixth most common cancer.  Damage to the liver leading to chronic liver disease increases the risk for liver cancer.  There are several risk factors such as exposure to aflatoxins, excessive alcohol consumption, infection with hepatitis B virus, and now red meat intake which have been found to cause injury to the liver, chronic liver disease and liver cancer.  In this study the researchers looked at red meat, white meat, and saturated fat consumption of men and women aged 50 to 71.  A positive association was found to link liver cancer, red meat and saturated fat intake whereas an inverse association was found in those who consumed more white meat.  There are three potential theories to this association.  First, red meat is a source of saturated fatty acids which are deposited in the liver and lead to chronic liver disease.  Second, red meat is a good source of iron.  Eating large amounts of red meat causes iron overload and the excess iron is deposited in the liver leading to chronic liver disease.  Finally, red meat tends to be cooked at high temperatures and compounds with carcinogenic properties are formed.

The study did not discuss the recommendations of red meat intake to avoid increasing the risk of chronic liver disease and liver cancer.  A good rule of thumb is to fill half of your plate with fruit and vegetables, a quarter with whole grain starch and a quarter with lean meats such as fish, poultry and vegetable-based proteins.  As with many tasty indulgences, red meats should be consumed sparingly and in moderation.

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