Nestled in two trapezoids on the second tier of the food pyramid, dairy and red meat are often lauded as sources of calcium and protein but linked to cancer and high fat diets. New research from scientists at the University of California, San Diego provides more evidence for the cancer-causing properties of these foods.
The study suggests that red meat and dairy products contain a molecule that humans don’t naturally produce called Neu5Gc. Human cells absorb this compound, and over time the body produces antibodies against it. After years of ingesting milk and meat, constant antibody production may trigger a mild, but continuous inflammatory immune response. This kind of chronic inflammation has long been linked to cancer.
But questions remain. Each person responds differently to the compound, says molecular biologist Ajit Varki who helped design the study. His upcoming work will examine how genetic and environmental factors could affect the way our bodies handle the molecule.
As for his own diet, he’s playing it safe. “I am not a vegetarian,” he wrote in an e-mail. “But I don’t need to be to avoid Neu5Gc.” He added that chicken, eggs, and poultry are free of the molecule. “I just avoid lamb, pork, beef and milk,” he said.
Correction (December 9, 2008): The original headline read “Red Meat and Dairy not Kosher for the Immune System” and the first paragraph, which has been deleted, read “Good news for kosher-keeping Jews. The biblical taboo against consuming meat and milk from animals with hooves may reduce cancer.” Thanks for the heads up from the commenter below.
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