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Cancer, Well-Done

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cancer, meat, well-done, HCA, PHA

Bad news for fans of grilled and fried foods: The National Cancer Institute found cooking meats over an open flame or at temperatures 300 degrees F and higher introduced significant levels of carcinogenic compounds into the food. HCA (heterocyclic amines) and PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are the two chemicals in question, and their levels vary based on the type of meat as well as the manner in which it was prepared.

HCA’s occur when protein, creatine, and sugar (three things found in muscle meat) are exposed to high heat. PAH’s are contained in the smoke and flames created by fats and juices secreted from meats being grilled or smoked. The National Cancer Institute determined barbequed, grilled, and well-done meats to have the greatest levels of HCA’s, while PAH’s are found on charred meats.

As of current, HCA and PAH experimentation has only been performed on animal models, but the results found a variety of cancer formations in the test subjects. HCA consumption saw a dramatic rise in cancers of organs like the lungs, prostate, and skin, and PAH exposure was correlated to leukemia and intestinal cancer in rats. In order for the two carcinogens to have any kind of mutative effect on DNA, they must undergo a process known as bioactivation, which can vary because of differing levels of enzymes between subjects. There has not been a population study comprehensive enough to establish a link between these compounds and cancer in humans, although health and diet-related questionnaires and case studies have established a data-based association between barbecued, fried, and flame-cooked meats with certain gastrointestinal cancers. However, it is important to note that a human case study would also be complicated by personal and family health history and the subject’s own susceptibility to cancer.

But with national efforts at preventing smoking and childhood obesity, isn’t it time we addressed the poisonous elements in our food? No FDA regulations have been established for arsenic content nor these aforementioned carcinogenic compounds in foods, although the same PAH’s found in smoked and charred meats are also found in cigarette smoke and car fumes. The same Times Square where Mayor Bloomberg banned cigarette smoke also hosts Guy Fieri’s American Bar and Grill and its notoriously unhealthy menu full of deep-fried and barbecued meats. How can America’s recent thrust towards increasing public health and awareness not include the poisonous byproducts of industrialized food production and farming?

Source: National Cancer Institute

Photo: shalawsome/Flickr

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