Scientists Finally Discover Exactly Why Eating Red Meat Causes Cancer


A new study out of the University of California, San Diego has discovered the culprit behind why red meat leads to higher instances of cancer in humans — and it all has to do with a sugar.

Humans are the only animals that have a higher risk of cancer when it comes to eating red meat. Other carnivores eat red meat naturally with no ill side effects. The study, which was published Dec. 29 in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” discovered that a unique sugar called Neu5Gc, found in most mammals but not in humans, triggers an immune response that in turn causes inflammation. Most other carnivores’ bodies are built to process this sugar — human bodies are not.


The study lead, Ajit Varki, MD, is a distinguished professor of medicine and cellular and molecular medicine and member of the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. He explained the effect Neu5Gc had in mice:

“Until now, all of our evidence linking Neu5Gc to cancer was circumstantial or indirectly predicted from somewhat artificial experimental setups … This is the first time we have directly shown that mimicking the exact situation in humans — feeding non-human Neu5Gc and inducing anti-Neu5Gc antibodies — increases spontaneous cancers in mice.”

When humans eat a diet that includes lots of red meat, the sugar molecule triggers the immune system to constantly produce antibodies to fight it off. This leads to chronic inflammation, which many studies have shown promotes tumor growth, leading to cancer.


“The final proof in humans will be much harder to come by … But on a more general note, this work may also help explain potential connections of red meat consumption to other diseases exacerbated by chronic inflammation, such as atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes. Of course, moderate amounts of red meat can be a source of good nutrition for young people. We hope that our work will eventually lead the way to practical solutions for this catch-22.”

If for some reason you believe eating red meat every day (even if it is grass-fed) isn’t a bad thing, now you have proof. Sorry, meat eaters, humans just aren’t built to be true carnivores.

Source: UC San Diego