Scientists think they now know why eating red meat while you have mesothelioma is like tossing gasoline on a fire. It’s because of Neu5Gc — a sugar molecule contained in beef but unnatural in humans.
Neu5Gc doesn’t cause mesothelioma, but it apparently helps create the conditions inside your body that encourage mesothelioma to develop and then to spread rapidly once it gets going.
The discovery of Neu5Gc and its role in facilitating mesothelioma — and just about every other type of cancer — was made by researchers at the University of California in San Diego. They wrote about Neu5Gc in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers cautioned that red meat shouldn’t be automatically stricken from your diet if you’re young and without cancer. Beef in moderation is good while you’re growing and are healthy, they said.
However, consuming red meat while you’re trying to fight mesothelioma does you no good. Your mesothelioma doctor has known that for a long time, and that’s why you probably were told to avoid beef.
What mesothelioma doctors didn’t know — until now — is why eating red meat was such a losing proposition for patients.
They always thought the problem with red meat was that cooking it released a chemical which you then took into your body as you ate. This chemical was believed to be carcinogenic.
But it turns out that this same chemical is released when you cook fish or chicken — and neither of them contains Neu5Gc.
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Neu5Gc is naturally occurring in cattle, pigs and lamb, the researchers indicated. However, it is totally absent from humans. The way it shows up in men and women is if it’s consumed in a meal.
As a side note, the researchers wrote that the absence of Neu5Gc in humans may explain why people run a higher risk of developing cancer than do other mammals that prey on meat.
Because Neu5Gc is unnatural to humans, the immune system attacks it. However, the researchers found that the attack never results in victory.
It can’t because Neu5Gc incorporates itself into your body’s cells, where it then becomes shielded from the efforts of the immune system. Even though the molecules are shielded, the immune system knows they’re there, so it keeps up the attack.
All that this accomplishes is inflammation. The researchers pointed out that long-lasting inflammation encourages the development of tumors.
They noted, though, that Neu5Gc is not the ultimate cause of cancer. With mesothelioma, the ultimate cause is exposure to asbestos. Neu5Gc just helps things get out of control and stay that way.
Red Meat and Cancer Link Tested
The researchers came to their conclusions about Neu5GC after feeding beef products to two groups of mice.
One group was genetically altered so that the mice lacked naturally occurring Neu5Gc. This made these mice just like humans in that one regard.
When the researchers compared the two mice groups at the end of the experiment, they found that the mice without naturally occurring Neu5Gc were five times more likely than the other mice to get cancer.
The researchers took care during the experiment to avoid exposing the test mice to carcinogens. This made it more likely that Neu5Gc was behind the higher risk.
In addition to beef, pork and lamb containing Neu5Gc, the researchers cautioned that the sugar molecule is also found in whole milk, some cheeses and fish eggs.