Unless you live under a rock, you are aware by now that processed meats such as bacon, corned beef, and pepperoni are not healthy foods. Yet there are still plenty of people who consume these smoked, cured, and additive-laden meats. In fact, the National Pork Producers’ Council estimates that roughly 60 percent of the 24 billion pounds of pork produced in 2014 became bacon, sausage, or the like.
Even if processed meats are only an occasional indulgence, they are seriously bad for you, with links to cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and early mortality. Plus, for many people, these indulgences are more daily than occasional, as they are frequently included on the menu in low-carb diets. And now, new research has discovered another health issue to which processed meats probably contribute: a worsening of asthma symptoms.
The study, which took place at Inserm and Paul Brousse Hospital in Villejuif, France, found that eating processed meats regularly may aggravate symptoms in asthma sufferers.1 Li, Zhen; et al. “Cured meat intake is associated with worsening asthma symptoms.” Thorax. 20 December 2016. Accessed 10 January 2017. http://thorax.bmj.com/content/early/2016/11/25/thoraxjnl-2016-208375. The subjects were 971 men and women living in five French cities. They responded to surveys from 2003 through 2007 with questions regarding their dietary habits, weight, and whether they had any symptoms of asthma.
The participants had an average intake of 2.5 servings of processed meats per week. In addition, slightly more than 40 percent of the volunteers reported experiencing asthmatic symptoms, and approximately half had never smoked. Each of them was told to rate their symptoms from zero to five, depending on the level of difficulty they had breathing, amount of chest tightness, and shortness of breath they had experienced during the prior year.
As a follow up to determine any effects on the subjects’ asthma symptoms, they were asked to complete further questionnaires between 2011 and 2013. At that point, roughly half of the participants reported no differences in their asthma ratings, while just over 25 percent said there was some improvement, and in approximately 20 percent, the symptoms had worsened.
The investigators controlled for a variety of possible influences including age, physical activity level, overall eating patterns, education attained, and whether the volunteers smoked. But even after all of that was taken into consideration, they found that those subjects who consumed four servings or more of processed meat weekly had a 76 percent greater risk of exacerbated asthma symptoms compared to their counterparts who consumed less than one serving a week.
Now to be fair, weight issues probably contributed to at least some of the added asthma difficulties in this population sample. Approximately 35 percent of the volunteers were overweight and approximately 10 percent were obese. Being overweight was shown in a 2007 study at the University of Colorado at Denver to increase the likelihood of developing asthma.2 Beuther, David A. and Sutherland, E. Rand. “Overweight, Obesity, and Incident Asthma.” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 1 April 2007. Accessed 11 January 2017. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1899288/.
But don’t think that if you’re not overweight it means it’s safer for you to eat processed meats. More than half of the subjects were normal weight, and they still suffered from worsened asthma symptoms when their consumption of these meats was more frequent. And honestly, these results shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone. After all, processed meats are prepared by smoking, salting, fermenting, or curing in order to preserve the meat and give it flavor. But these processes cause the food to become carcinogenic, and a 2015 report by the World Health Organization classified processed meats—along with cigarettes, asbestos, arsenic, radiation, and alcohol—as the worst category of known carcinogens.3 Bouvard, Veronique; et al. “Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat.” The Lancet Oncology. 26 October 2015. Accessed 11 January 2017. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(15)00444-1/abstract. And if that’s not bad enough, many of these foods contain sodium nitrite. During the process of cooking certain meats, sodium nitrites combine with naturally present amines in the meat to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds. When ingested, these compounds are associated with cancer.4 Ute Nöthlings, Lynne R. Wilkens, Suzanne P. Murphy, et al. “Meat and Fat Intake as Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer: The Multiethnic Cohort Study.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 97, No. 19, October 5, 2005. http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/97/19/1458.full.pdf
The results of the current research aren’t the first connection made between processed meats and respiratory ailments either. In fact, studies have shown that processed meats can raise lung cancer risk as well as the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
So if you’re trying to cut back on carbohydrates, that’s fine within moderation. Just don’t choose processed meats as your source of protein. Lean free-range organic poultry, seafood, nuts, eggs, and beans will more than adequately satisfy your daily protein needs without adding to your risk of respiratory problems, as well as so many other diseases.
|↑1||Li, Zhen; et al. “Cured meat intake is associated with worsening asthma symptoms.” Thorax. 20 December 2016. Accessed 10 January 2017. http://thorax.bmj.com/content/early/2016/11/25/thoraxjnl-2016-208375.|
|↑2||Beuther, David A. and Sutherland, E. Rand. “Overweight, Obesity, and Incident Asthma.” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 1 April 2007. Accessed 11 January 2017. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1899288/.|
|↑3||Bouvard, Veronique; et al. “Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat.” The Lancet Oncology. 26 October 2015. Accessed 11 January 2017. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(15)00444-1/abstract.|
|↑4||Ute Nöthlings, Lynne R. Wilkens, Suzanne P. Murphy, et al. “Meat and Fat Intake as Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer: The Multiethnic Cohort Study.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 97, No. 19, October 5, 2005. http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/97/19/1458.full.pdf|