red meat burger heart

We’re certainly not saying it’s time to cut red meat from your diet completely, but a new study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, suggests that replacing red meat with other protein-rich sources such as poultry, fish, legumes and nuts might reduce your chances of developing breast cancer.

The study published in the British Medical Journal, looked at almost 89,000 premenopausal women whose diet had been tracked over 20 years starting from 1991. There were approximately 3,000 cases of reported breast cancer in the group.  The conclusion of the study was that “higher red meat intake in early adulthood may be a risk factor for breast cancer, and replacing red meat with a combination of legumes, poultry, nuts and fish may reduce the risk of breast cancer.”

While the study raises some interesting questions with regards to the link between a diet high in red meat and incidence of breast cancer, it does not conclusively prove that there is a direct causal link between the two, but rather that risk factors can be altered by diet and that further research is necessary.

The three main factors that contribute to an increased risk of developing the disease are: being female, increasing age and significant family history of the disease. Other than diet, the lifestyle factors that are known to reduce risk are maintaining a healthy weight, low consumption of alcohol and regular physical exercise.

Other forms of cancer have been linked to red meat in the past, so there is a possibility that this may extend to breast cancer too – red meat and processed meat have previously been linked to bowel cancer. Red meat has also been proven to release carcinogens when cooked at high temperatures, hormones fed to animals may increase human hormones and high protein diets have been linked to increased cancer risk through the stimulation of growth hormones, which in turn could stimulate cancer cell growth.

So, the long held dietary recommendations from institutions such as The American Cancer Society or the UK’s Department of Health, that a person should eat limited amounts of red meat and eat a diet that consists of varied protein sources is still sound advice in maintaining health and increased longevity.


Image: flickr/ciron810