Hot Dogs: Questions and Answers

Dr. Group
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on

Picture of a child eating a hot dog depicting the risk of developing cancer by eating processed foods such as processed hot dog meat.

Consuming Hot Dogs Can Be Harmful to Your Health

Multiple studies have determined that consumption of hot dogs can be a risk factor for childhood cancer.

Peters et al studied the relationship between the intake of certain foods and the risk of leukemia in children from birth to age 10 in Los Angeles County between 1980 and 1987. The study found that children who ate more than twelve hot dogs per month had nine times the normal risk of developing childhood leukemia. [1]

Researchers Sarusua and Savitz studied childhood cancer in Denver and found that children born to mothers who consumed hot dogs one or more times per week during pregnancy had about double the risk of developing brain tumors. Children who ate hot dogs one or more times per week were also at higher risk of brain cancer. [2]

Bunin et al also found that children of mothers who consumed hot dogs during pregnancy had an increased risk of childhood brain tumors. [3]

How Do Hot Dogs Cause Cancer?

Most hot dogs contain preservatives called nitrites. During the cooking process, nitrites combine with amines naturally present in meat to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds. It is also suspected that nitrites combine with amines in the human stomach to form N-nitroso compounds. These compounds are carcinogens and have been associated with cancer of the oral cavity, bladder, esophagus, stomach, and brain. [4]

What About Vegetables That Contain Nitrites?

It is true that nitrites are commonly found in many green vegetables, especially spinach, celery, and green lettuce. However, the consumption of vegetables appears to be effective in reducing the risk of cancer. How is this possible? The explanation lies in the formation of N-nitroso compounds from nitrites and amines. Nitrite containing vegetables also have vitamins C and D, which help inhibit the formation of N-nitroso compounds.

What Other Foods Contain Nitrites?

All cured meat contains nitrites, including bacon. Sorry, bacon lovers.

Do ALL Hot Dogs Increase the Risk for Childhood Cancer?

Not all hot dogs contain nitrites. Nitrite-free hot dogs, while they taste the same as nitrite hot dogs, have a brownish color that has limited their popularity among consumers. Although I don’t recommend processed meat of any sort, between the two, nitrite-free hot dogs are better than their counterpart.

Additional Tips

Do not buy hot dogs that contain nitrites. Additionally, if your children eat lunch at school, contact the school and find out if they’re being served nitrite hot dogs in the cafeteria, request that they use only nitrite-free hot dogs. Or, better yet, discourage the use of processed meat entirely.

Do hot dogs have a place in your home? Are you concerned? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.

References (4)
  1. Peters J, et al. Processed meats and risk of childhood leukemia (California, USA). Cancer Causes & Control 5: 195-202, 1994.
  2. Sarasua S, Savitz D. Cured and broiled meat consumption in relation to childhood cancer: Denver, Colorado (United States). Cancer Causes & Control 5:141-8, 1994.
  3. Bunin GR, et al. Maternal diet and risk of astrocytic glioma in children: a report from the children's cancer group (United States and Canada). Cancer Causes & Control 5:177-87, 1994.
  4. Lijinsky W, Epstein, S. Nitrosamines as environmental carcinogens. Nature 225 (5227): 2112, 1970.

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