Women who ate the most red meat increased their risk for breast cancer by nearly 25 per cent, a 20-year study of nearly 89,000 women suggests.
On the flip side, however, replacing a daily serving of red meat with a combination of fish, legumes, nuts and poultry appeared to lower the risk of breast cancer by 14 percent, the researchers said.
“Cutting down processed meat, limiting intake of red meat, and substituting a combination of poultry, fish, legumes and nuts as protein sources for red meat during early life seems beneficial for the prevention of breast cancer,” said lead researcher Maryam Farvid, who’s with the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition.
Compared with women who had one serving of red meat a week, those who ate 1.5 servings a day appeared to have a 22 per cent higher risk of breast cancer.
And each additional daily serving of red meat seemed to increase the risk of breast cancer another 13 per cent, Farvid said.
Eating more poultry, however, lowered the risk, the researchers noted. Substituting one serving a day of poultry for one serving a day of red meat reduced the risk of breast cancer by 17 per cent overall and by 24 per cent among postmenopausal women, the researchers found.
“Decreasing consumption of red meat and replacing it with other healthy dietary sources of protein, such as chicken, turkey, fish, beans, lentils, peas and nuts, may have important public health implications,” she said.
“Reduction of red meat intake in the diet not only decreases the risk of breast cancer but also decreases the risk of other chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other kind of cancers, as well,” Farvid said.
Because this is a so-called observational study, it doesn’t prove that more red meat increases breast cancer risk. And the biological reasons behind the apparent red meat-breast cancer connection isn’t clear, she said.
Red meat has been thought to increase the risk of breast cancer in different ways, Farvid said. Cancer-causing “byproducts created during high temperature cooking of red meat” may be to blame, she said.
Another possibility: hormones used to increase growth of beef cattle. Also, she noted, “food preservatives such as nitrate and nitrite in processed meat can also be associated with elevated risk of breast cancer.”
The report was published online in the BMJ.
For the study, Farvid and her colleagues collected data on almost 89,000 women, aged 26 to 45, who took part in the Nurses’ Health Study II. The women completed a questionnaire on diet in 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007, according to the study.
Participants were asked about daily consumption of unprocessed red meat, such as beef, pork, lamb and hamburger, and processed red meat, such as hot dogs, bacon and sausage.
-New York Times News Service.