Skip the Bacon and Sausage

Cancer and cardiovascular disease linked to processed meat consumption

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Bacon is almost a staple in the American diet. But in Europe, consuming the juicy goodness along with other processed meats could lead to an early death.

A recently published study found eating processed foods increased the chances of an early death from cancer and heart diseases by 14 percent.

By eliminating 20 grams of processed meats a day, researchers predicted the number of premature deaths could decrease by more than 3 percent.

"Cut out processed meats."

Although meat is rich in protein, iron, zinc and several other vitamins, it can also have high levels of cholesterol and saturated fats, both of which have been linked to heart disease.

Researchers, led by Sabine Rohrmann, PhD, head of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention at the University of Zurich, aimed to see whether eating red meat, poultry or processed meat – such as sausage, bacon and salami – increased a person's chances of dying early.

The study included almost 450,000 men and women across 10 countries who were part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Researchers followed them over a 13-year period.

Participants were between 35 and 70 years of age and did not have a history of cancer, stroke or heart attacks.

They reported their diet, physical activity, smoking habits and body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of height and weight together.

Within the group, about 26,300 people died during the follow-up period. More than half were women. The causes for death include cancer, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, digestive tract diseases and other causes.

Researchers found consuming processed meat was linked to a higher chance of dying from all causes.

Specifically, the odds of dying were about one and a half times greater among those who ate processed meat than the odds for people who didn't.

Eating more than 160 grams of red meat was also linked to a 14 percent increased chance of dying early.

Further, researchers estimated 3.3 percent of deaths could be prevented if individuals ate less than 20 grams of processed meat per day.

"The results of our analysis suggest men and women with a high consumption of processed meat are at increased risk of early death, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases but also to cancer…," researchers wrote in their report.

"As processed meat consumption is a modifiable risk factor, health promotion activities should include specific advice on lowering processed meat consumption."

The authors noted they did not completely take exercise and smoking status into account, which may have skewed results.

The study was published online March 7 in the journal BMC Medicine. The authors do not report any conflicts of interest.

The study was funded by Europe Against Cancer Program of the European Commission, as well as a number of individual institutions within the countries involved in the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 11, 2013
Last Updated:
August 16, 2013