The Relation Between Meat Consumption and Cancer

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

A grilled steak. There is a strong, well-documented relationship between the consumption of meat and cancer. One of the central philosophies of Global Healing Center is an adherence to a raw, organic, vegan diet. It’s also one of the most controversial. There are many reasons to adopt a vegan diet, such as religious beliefs, a desire to not harm animals, or simply to support one’s health. While we at Global Healing Center do love our animal friends, the reason we promote this lifestyle is because of the health benefits. One of the greatest health benefits of a vegan diet is a decreased risk of many types of cancer.

Meat Is Carcinogenic

There is a strong, well-documented, well-established relationship between the consumption of animal products and many types of cancer. An exhaustive nutritional study involving over half a million people found that those who eat large amounts of meat, particularly red and processed meat, faced a significantly higher cancer risk.[1]

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), processed meat is a carcinogen and red meat is “probably carcinogenic.”[2] Before you think this is fringe science or a new theory, consider that the American Cancer Society recommends that you limit your consumption of red and processed meat and other sources of high-fat protein, including chicken.[3]

The cancer risk from a diet high in animal protein (20%+ of total calories) is now considered to be on par with smoking. Unsurprisingly, a diet high in plant protein shows no such effect. This could be because plant-sourced protein does not stimulate growth hormones, like IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), animal protein does. [4]

IGF-1 in Meat Assists Tumor Growth

IGF-1 is a growth factor that promotes cell division in the body, which is a great thing if you’re a growing child. In adults, however, excess IGF-1 in the body can encourage the growth of tumors. The higher the levels of this hormone, the greater the risk of developing several types of cancer. IGF-1 helps transform normal cells into cancerous cells by both inhibiting normal cell death and stimulating cell division.[4, 5] These corrupted cells then metastasize to other areas of the body.[6]

Of course, there are other factors that promote cancer in the body. Methionine, an amino acid found primarily in animal products, promotes the growth of tumors and cancer.[7] It’s not only animal protein that elevates your cancer risk, however.

Saturated Fat Increases Cancer Risk

Consuming saturated fat from animal sources contributes to common types of cancer and decreases the likelihood of surviving a cancer diagnosis.[8] Pancreatic, prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer show the strongest correlation with saturated fat consumption.[9]

  • The saturated fat found in dairy and red meat increases your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.[10, 11, 12]
  • A diet high in saturated fat from foods like beef and cheese is linked to aggressive prostate cancer.[13]
  • Breast cancer risk and mortality increase with red meat and dairy consumption.[14] Survival rates actually dip significantly with high saturated fat intake after a breast cancer diagnosis. Alarmingly, animal product consumption during adolescence seems to predict breast cancer risk years before cancer development and diagnosis.[15, 16]
  • Up to 50% of all cases of colorectal cancer can be attributed to diet and lifestyle, specifically the consumption of dietary fat, red and processed meat, and dairy.[17] In fact, higher consumption of animal products before diagnosis predicts a higher risk of dying from this type of cancer.[18]

Meat and Pediatric Cancer

What a mother eats during pregnancy can increase or decrease the risk of the child developing some types of childhood cancer. Genetic changes linked to cancer can begin in the womb.[19]

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is both the second most common childhood cancer and the second most common cause of mortality for children under 14. The risk of developing ALL is linked to maternal smoking habits[20] and the type of protein the mother consumed while her child was in utero. Eating plant-based protein such as beans, vegetables, and fruit during pregnancy seems to lower the risk of children developing this disease.[21,22]

Brain tumors, which account for 20% of the cases of childhood cancer, are linked to maternal diet during pregnancy.[23] In particular, the consumption of cured meat and sausage seems to significantly increase the risk of brain tumors.[24, 25] Consuming dairy or eggs while pregnant also boosts the risk of the child developing brain tumors. Conversely, a diet high in grains, fresh fish, and cruciferous and yellow-orange vegetables reduces the risk of developing brain tumors.[26]

Lifestyle Is Key to Prevention

Many complex and interconnected factors such as genetics, environment, exposure to hazardous material, and diet determine your cancer risk. Genetics play a significant role but, unfortunately, there’s not a thing any of us can do about the genes we’re born with. Nutrition, however, is something most of us can control. The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of cancer is to follow a raw, organic, vegan diet.

If you absolutely cannot go all vegan, you should, at least, reduce your consumption of meat and dairy. Baby steps are an effective way to elicit change. Start by going completely meatless one day a week. After a month of “Meatless Mondays,” add a “Fruitarian Friday” or “Salad Sunday” to the mix. Continue in this manner until you feel comfortable with a primarily plant-based diet. To help, we have many healthy and delicious vegan recipes that include everything from complete dishes to sides and even desserts.

Going vegan will not guarantee that you’ll never develop cancer but it is a strategy that can help reduce your risk.

Do you follow a vegan diet? Do you have any tips for a successful transition or favorite recipes? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

References (26)
  1. Sinha, Rashmi, et al. “Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of over Half a Million People.” Arch Intern Med, vol. 169, no. 6, 23 Mar. 2009. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  2. WHO. “Q&A on the Carcinogenicity of the Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 17 May 2016. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  3. Brown, JK, et al. “Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment: An American Cancer Society Guide for Informed Choices.” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 53.5 (23 Oct. 2003): 268–91. 4 Jan. 2017.
  4. Levine, Morgan E., et al. “Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population.” Cell Metabolism, vol. 19, no. 3, 1 Mar. 2014, pp. 407–417. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  5. Kaaks, R. “Nutrition, Insulin, IGF-1 Metabolism and Cancer Risk: A Summary of Epidemiological Evidence.” Novartis Foundation Symposium., vol. 262, 26 Nov. 2004, pp. 247–60. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016
  6. Yu, Herbert, and Thomas Rohan. “Role of the Insulin-Like Growth Factor Family in Cancer Development and Progression.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, vol. 92, no. 18, 20 Sept. 2000, pp. 1472–1489, 0.1093/jnci/92.18.1472. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  7. Halpern, BC, et al. “The Effect of Replacement of Methionine by Homocystine on Survival of Malignant and Normal Adult Mammalian Cells in Culture.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America., vol. 71, no. 4, 1 Apr. 1974, pp. 1133–6, Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  8. Pan, A, et al. “Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results from 2 Prospective Cohort Studies.” Archives of internal medicine. 172.7 (14 Mar. 2012): 555–63. 4 Jan. 2017.
  9. Vecchia, La. “Cancers Associated with High-Fat Diets.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Monographs., 1 Jan. 1992, pp. 79–85, Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  10. Jansen, Rick J., et al. “Fatty Acids Found in Dairy, Protein, and Unsaturated Fatty Acids Are Associated with Risk of Pancreatic Cancer in a Case-Control Study.” 134.8 (15 Apr. 2014): n.pag. 4 Jan. 2017.
  11. PERICLEOUS, MARINOS, et al. “Nutrition and Pancreatic Cancer.” Anticancer Research, vol. 34, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 21–9, Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  12. Bosetti, Cristina, et al. “Nutrient-Based Dietary Patterns and Pancreatic Cancer Risk.” Annals of Epidemiology, vol. 23, no. 3, 1 Mar. 2013, pp. 124–128, 10.1016/j.annepidem.2012.12.005. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  13. “Increased Saturated Fat Intake Linked to Aggressive Prostate Cancer.” Science Daily, ScienceDaily, 19 Apr. 2016. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  14. Cho, E, et al. “Premenopausal Fat Intake and Risk of Breast Cancer.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute., vol. 95, no. 14, 17 July 2003, pp. 1079–85. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  15. Farvid, Maryam S., et al. “Adolescent Meat Intake and Breast Cancer Risk.” International Journal of Cancer, vol. 136, no. 8, 3 Oct. 2014, pp. 1909–1920, 10.1002/ijc.29218
  16. “Eating a High-Fat Diet and Breast Cancer Risk | Susan G. Komen®.” Komen.Org, 2016. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  17. Vargas, Ashley J., and Patricia A. Thompson. “Diet and Nutrient Factors in Colorectal Cancer Risk.” Nutr Clin Pract, vol. 27, no. 5, 14 Aug. 2012, pp. 613–623, 10.1177/0884533612454885. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016
  18. McCullough, Marjorie L, et al. “Association Between Red and Processed Meat Intake and Mortality Among Colorectal Cancer Survivors.” Journal of Clinical Oncology, 1 July 2013, pp. 1126–49, 10.1200/JCO.2013.49.1126. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  19. “New Study Suggests Link Between Maternal Diet and Childhood Leukemia Risk.” UC Berkeley News, University of California Berkeley, 19 Aug. 2004, Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  20. Stjernfeldt, Michael, et al. “MATERNAL SMOKING DURING PREGNANCY AND RISK OF CHILDHOOD CANCER.” The Lancet, vol. 327, no. 8494, 14 June 1986, pp. 1350–1352, 10.1016/S0140-6736(86)91664-8. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016
  21. Booker, Susan M. “Headliners: Maternal Nutrition and Child Cancer: Mother’s Pre-Pregnancy Diet May Influence Child Cancer Risk.” Environmental Health Perspectives 112.15 (2004): A877. Print.
  22. Kwan, Marilyn L. et al. “Maternal Diet and Risk of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.” Public Health Reports 124.4 (2009): 503–514. Print.
  23. Bunin, Greta R., Kuijten René R., Boesel Carl P., Buckley Jonathan D., and Meadows Anna T. "Maternal Diet and Risk of Astrocytic Glioma in Children: A Report from the Childrens Cancer Group (United States and Canada)." Cancer Causes & Control 5.2 (1994): 177-87. Web.
  24. Huncharek, M, and B Kupelnick. “A Meta-Analysis of Maternal Cured Meat Consumption During Pregnancy and the Risk of Childhood Brain Tumors.” Neuroepidemiology., vol. 23, 24 Jan. 2004, pp. 78–84. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
  25. Searles Nielsen, Susan et al. “Childhood Brain Tumors and Maternal Cured Meat Consumption in Pregnancy: Differential Effect by Glutathione S-Transferases.” Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology 20.11 (2011): 2413–2419. PMC. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
  26. Pogoda, Janice M. et al. “An International Case-Control Study of Maternal Diet during Pregnancy and Childhood Brain Tumor Risk: A Histology-Specific Analysis by Food Group.” Annals of epidemiology 19.3 (2009): 148–160. PMC. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

  • Mike Giller

    We are omnivores. Eat 80% raw organic and 20% raw grass fed.

  • Amanda

    Has anyone heard of the Weston Price Foundation’s research, and, if so, what they think of it? They say there is proof that people’s teeth are deformed because they don’t eat like the isolated primitive people, who had excellent health. And their wisdom teeth came in, with no problems.

  • Emeka Ogazi

    We thank Dr Axe for making availed an in depth information on the meat and cancer relationship, Raw Apple cider vinegar is a sugar eater and contains pectin and is efficient in cutting off the source of fuel to the cancer augar and is able to remove the offensive smell emission cancer, can it not be used in the Treatment of cancer ? can you throw more light on this?

  • Eileen

    I was a vegetarian for a few years and had a lot of CNS issues, like vertigo and nystagmus. I switched to a Paleo diet with 100% grass fed and pasture raised meat and had amazing results. Like other diets, when you no longer have the issue, a dietary change was in order; now I am no longer straight Paleo and have introduced beans and limited grains. Still having good results.

    The common denominator is saturated fat.

  • Steve Garrett

    Hi Amanda, yes I am familiar with Weston Price Foundation’s research. I stumbled upon him when I was researching about phytates. Weston Price also talks about the very important subject of copper zinc imbalance. Having too much biounavailable copper in the body actually creates an environment conducive for cancer. And one way to have too much copper is by eating vegetarian or vegan diets so this is actually quite dangerous. I personally have been following the advice of Dr. Lawrence Wilson who has been practicing nutritional balancing science for over 30 years and I feel amazing and my hair tests prove it (16 months on the program). Nutritional Balancing is an amazing science and very effective at balancing the minerals in the body and getting rid of heavy metals and toxins. Dr. Wilson’s knowledge and experience on minerals and detoxification in the body is astounding.

  • Robin Thomas

    My “problem” with being raw-vegan is that I am allergic to all nuts and seeds and a couple of the tropical fruits. My only option for protein would be raw vegan protein powder. I am just not sure that someone with my serious food allergies would ingest everything I need to be healthy.

  • Aaron

    I’m not giving up my meat. 🙂 However, some of the reason carcinogens would be associated with meat eating could be the result of our modern agriculture methods. Perhaps the GMO feed that, for example, cattle are being fed is causing the meat to be more likely carcinogenic. In addition to this, I’m certain vaccines / pharmaceuticals would be to blame for heightened carcinogen levels in the meat. I’m not knocking your recommendation though, however, I’m not giving up on my meat. 🙂

  • Lianne German

    Eat brown rice protein or eat Quinoa with beans?

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