Angry Toxicologist

Or so says USA Today on the front page, paragraph two (regarding sausage, bacon and lunchmeat). Of course they are contradicted on paragraph 8 by someone who says that “you can still occasionally have a hot dog”. The no safe level of bacon sounded fishy to me so I dug through the report (all 517 pages are here).

Cutting right to the chase, here’s what they found, the consumption of processed meat increased the risk mainly for colorectal cancer. We’ll get to the data in a second. They also found that salt caused cancer, particularly of the stomach.

Processed Meat
First, they don’t specify what types of processed meat they mean. Mystery meat in a Swanson’s frozen dinner or Lunchables is a far cry from a slab of cured bacon. I’m not making a judgement one way or the other, but the studies don’t break it out. For making public health recommendations, this is key. (I would certainly make judgements based on taste, however). Second, look at the graph that follows this sentence:

A dose response relationship was apparent from cohort studies that measured in times/day

Due to copyright issues you’ll have to go look at figure 4.3.8 on page 123. It kind of loses it’s effect but the lines are hardly trending up (going up and down) with confidence intervals that aren’t exactly what I would call a dose-response. While you’re at it, look at the list of studies in figures, not exactly what I would call strong, although overall, it looks like you would get something. And you do, when you do a meta-analysis (that a fancy way of saying you combined the data from the studies) on the 5 studies that are able to be analysed, you get a relative risk of 1.21 (95% confidence interval 1.04-4.42) per 50 g per day. A second meta-analysis reported a 1.09 RR (95% CI 1.05-1.13) per 30 g per day. Following in the tradition of irresponsible reporting, I suggest you eat at least 20 g/day to lower your cancer risk. What? Look at the Choa 2005 study for men, it is statistically significant! Of course, it’s probably not real. After all that, I give you my take: there may be a slight risk if you eat more than 30 g/day but under that your risk should be fine.

Salt
Salt results look almost the same but for a g/day rate on stomach cancer. The dose response looks a little better.

Solution: don’t eat so much bacon and try to cut down on the salt. Hmmm…that doesn’t seem like such breaking news, does it? I think the dumbest among us knows we should be doing this anyway. Second of all, I’ll put up with a 1.2 relative risk to able to have bacon with breakfast on Saturday if that’s what it takes (although this is way under the 30g/day limit). I try not to be glib, but for a voluntary exposure, I think this is okay. Otherwise, I wouldn’t leave the house, use any power tools, share a bottle of wine with friends, eat grilled or French food, let kids explore, or walk outside barefoot. But I do, and it’s worth it.

Want to further cut down on your nitrates? Make your own sausage (it’s much better). Maybe I’ll post a recipe tomorrow.

Last Thought
Maybe we should stop funding studies to tell us over and over and over again what’s bad for us and start expending some effort on fixing the problems we already have. ‘Cause if I see on more study about what obesity does to your health I swear I’m gonna…

Comments

  1. #1 Alisha
    November 1, 2007

    Seriously, I need a 517 page study to tell me to eat more plants, less meat and salt? It’s nice to have it all compiled but this couldn’t have been worth the effort.

    Also, the report notes that the finding wasn’t any different from the previous edition. So USAT thought it was news because…?

  2. #2 Woodwose
    November 1, 2007

    Articles on how eating the wrong foods, alcohol, sunning, living in radon producing houses, and wearing artificial fibers result in cancer, type 2 diabetes and other diseases all seem aimed at blaming the victim. I know of many abstemious folks who exercise regularly and “think good thoughts” but still get cancer. They, never-the-less, get dragged over the coals by acquaintances and some G.Ps on what they did wrong to earn them their grief.

    A reasonably omnivorous diet and reasonably non-sedentary lifestyle should not be looked at as the foolhardy choice that fear mongers tell us it is. A beer and a burger is not a death sentence

  3. #3 Katie V.
    November 1, 2007

    Although I enjoyed your article, I hate reading something with misspellings and grammatical errors (i.e. braking news, saturday, and “I think this okay”). Come on, guys! Where are your editors?

  4. #4 Markt
    November 1, 2007

    Great article. I always like how the media will blow things out of proportion. So often we here things like this report on processed meat where if we eat bacon we will increase our chances of getting cancer by 30%. So what I would like to know is what are my chances before I start eating bacon? Is it a 1% chance or a 3% chance? So if I am increasing my chances by 30%, then I go from a 1.0% chance to a 1.30% chance right? It doesn’t sound so bad when I look at it that way.

  5. #5 Graculus
    November 1, 2007

    Guy goes to the doctor, who tells him to stop drinking, stop eating bacon, and stop chasing women.

    “Doc, will I live longer?”

    “No, but it’ll feel like it.”

  6. #6 Bob
    November 1, 2007

    When I was young it was cranbury that would give you cancer and now that I am older it’s not cranbury but it’s bacon & eggs or is it sausage & eggs, no maybe it’s the coffee?

  7. #7 smickworks
    November 2, 2007

    Nice work. Usually I just read design blogs. This is the kind of stuff I really like to read about.

  8. #8 AngryToxicologist
    November 2, 2007

    Great comments. All things in moderation has always been my rule and that seems to work out pretty well.

    Katie, I totally understand your frustration. However, we don’t have editors (I should say that there are editors but they can’t look over all of our stuff any time of day when we post it). Everything in Seed magazine does get edited, though. I write this somewhere in between a more than full time job, spending time with my family, cooking, training for triathalons, and rehabing my house (and I don’t get paid for this either). Lots of times I don’t have time for posting, much less spell checking (you can’t cut and paste from Word either where it’s automatic, it does some thing to the characters). Also, the only class I ever got a D in was spelling in 5th grade. That’s all to say that I’ll try my best to get things as correct as possible, and I apologize for being a bad writer, but I wouldn’t suggest that anyone hold their breath for exemplary spelling. I do appreciate being alerted to corrections, though.

    (I just looked at the lenght of what I just wrote. I had no idea, but apparently I’m a bit sensitive about this?)

  9. #9 Garry
    November 2, 2007

    Almost every day some form of “experts” pronounce something is harmful whilst a few days later another team pronounce it is safe which makes one either bored with it all or like me, suspect the “Experts” are actually “X” the unknown quantity and “Spurt” a drip under pressure!

    What is becoming obvious is that modern chemically treated foods are to be avoided at all costs, it is time we went back to the traditional methods of curing bacon and the like.

    However, in the end, all diets should comprise of “moderation in all things”. People who live on greasy or junk foods are asking for problems in later life. Our body is a remarkable machine and tolerates a lot, but too much of anything is very bad for us; this is why there should be a Health Warning on Politicians!

  10. #10 David
    November 2, 2007

    Does Fox not believe in copy editing articles they post, even from another source, or is someone getting paid $60K for nothing in particular?

  11. #11 AngryToxicologist
    November 2, 2007

    David, I’m not sure your comment makes any sense at all. Please try accusing someone of something again with specifics. (I may not be able to spell, but hopefully I’m coherent)

  12. #12 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    December 26, 2007

    Make your own bacon

    Leave the pink salt out. I’ve done it both ways now and there is no reason I can see to leave it in.

  13. #13 islami sohbet
    June 11, 2009

    When I was young it was cranbury that would give you cancer and now that I am older it’s not cranbury but it’s bacon & eggs or is it sausage & eggs, no maybe it’s the coffee?

  14. #14 söve
    June 13, 2009

    However, in the end, all diets should comprise of “moderation in all things”. People who live on greasy or junk foods are asking for problems in later life. Our body is a remarkable machine and tolerates a lot, but too much of anything is very bad for us; this is why there should be a Health Warning on Politicians

  15. #15 sohbet
    January 12, 2010

    Nice work. Usually I just read design blogs. This is the kind of stuff I really like to read about.

  16. #16 islami sohbet
    January 24, 2010

    Does Fox not believe in copy editing articles they post, even from another source, or is someone getting paid $60K for nothing in particular?

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