Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Alternative Treatments for Cancer


Nitrates, Mutagens and Other Cancer Risks

Foods that are high in fat are not the only food items to avoid. Items that contain nitrates, mutagens and alcohol can also be potentially dangerous when it comes to developing cancer. In this section, we will examine the risks that those items present.

Nitrite/Nitrate Alert

There seems to be a connection between processed, smoked, and salt-cured meats and cancer.

One reason is the nitrites -- they are added to many luncheon meats, bacon, ham, and hot dogs to maintain color and to prevent contamination with bacteria. The problem is that nitrites can be converted to carcinogenic nitrosamines in your body. Some studies have linked high intakes of processed meats with colorectal and stomach cancers.

To help counteract this effect, eat these foods along with vitamin-C-containing foods, which can help retard the conversion of nitrites into nitrosamines (the vitamin C must be in the stomach at the same time as the nitrites). Still, it may be good to go easy on processed meats. Meats preserved by smoking or salting also increase your exposure to potentially carcinogenic substances (see Unwelcome Mutagens below), so it's wise to limit these, too.

Some vegetables naturally contain nitrates, substances similar to nitrites. The use of certain fertilizers may increase the amount of nitrates in them, as well. However, many vegetables also come loaded with the built-in protection of vitamin C.

Unfortunately, that's not true for your local water supply, where nitrate contamination from fertilizers can also be a problem. Check with your local water or health department to find out about the nitrate level. If it's high, you might want to look into bottled water.

Unwelcome Mutagens

Mutagens are substances that can set off sudden changes in a cell's genetic makeup, creating potentially cancerous compounds. Whenever you brown food, mutagens may form. The more well-done your meat is, the more mutagens you are likely to consume. Because these mutagens don't form until meat is at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for a significant time, rare or medium-rare meat is not affected.

Any high-temperature cooking method, such as grilling, broiling, and pan-frying, used for meat, poultry, and fish can cause a type of carcinogen called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form. Grilling can also carry other risks. Another carcinogen, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), can form when the fat from meats drips onto the coals, tiles, or rocks. The rising smoke and flames can leave PAHs on the surface of the meat.

On the other hand, you must be sure to cook meat well enough to kill microorganisms that can cause potentially deadly food poisoning. So what should you do? Occasional high-heat cooking is no cause for concern. Microwaving, boiling, and baking use lower cooking temperatures, so use these methods more often than the higher-temperature methods. When you cook with higher temperatures, use a meat thermometer. This way, you can gauge when meat is cooked sufficiently on the inside to kill microorganisms and then remove it immediately from the heat to avoid the formation of excess mutagens.

Alcohol Advice

There's no doubt that alcohol contributes to esophageal and oral-cavity cancers. Add cigarette smoke, and the risk sky-rockets. But is there danger only for alcoholics, or should social drinkers also abstain? There have been conflicting data on moderate drinking and breast-cancer risk. It's probably best to follow the advice given for other chronic diseases: If you drink, do so only in moderation.

The foods you eat can make a big difference when it comes to cancer prevention. As was mentioned throughout this article, you should try to eat foods that are high in vitamins and minerals if you want to lower your risk. Foods that are high in fat, nitrates and mutagens increase your cancer risk.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.