TriageCancer.org
September 18, 2014 – Jon Garinn
Power of Placebo Effect
September 19, 2014 – Kathy LaTour
Meditation Shows Potential for Relieving Pediatric Cancer Pain
September 17, 2014 – Heather Stringer
Skin Cancer's Risk is Cumulative
September 25, 2014 – Len Lichtenfeld, MD
Sunburns During Teen Years Increase Melanoma Risk
September 19, 2014 – Elizabeth Whittington
Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Conference
September 25, 2014 – Jon Garinn
Anchorman Scott Inspires at ESPYs
September 19, 2014 – Jennifer Nassar
Members of Congress Rally for Medicare Coverage of Lung Cancer Screening
September 19, 2014 – Lena Huang
Meeting Dr. Brodie
September 25, 2014 – Carolyn Choate
Hospice Provides Time and Space for End-of-Life Discussions
September 24, 2014 – Matt Stone
The Affordable Care Act and Access to Cancer Care
September 24, 2014 – Jennifer L. W. Fink, RN
Managing Arthralgia
September 25, 2014 – Lacey Marlow
Are You an Overbearing Caregiver?
September 25, 2014 – Don Vaughan
Living with Lymphedema
September 25, 2014 – Sonya Collins
The DCIS Dilemma
September 25, 2014 – Charlotte Huff
Preparing for a Cancer-Related Emergency
September 25, 2014 – Jeanne Erdmann
Prehabilitation Aims to Prepare Patients for What Lies Ahead
September 24, 2014 – Jane Hill
Is There a Connection Between Food Preservatives and Cancer?
September 23, 2014 – Amy Rushlow
Low-Risk Cancers: Can We Ignore Them?
September 27, 2014 – Debu Tripathy, MD
Personalizing Cancer Care with Precision Medicine
September 25, 2014 – Maureen Salamon
Pipeline
September 25, 2014 – Katy Human
Tough Talk: Preparing for End of Life
September 24, 2014 – Kathy LaTour
Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation
September 23, 2014 – Katherine Lagomarsino
Comments From Readers
September 23, 2014
TriageCancer.org
September 18, 2014 – Jon Garinn
Power of Placebo Effect
September 19, 2014 – Kathy LaTour
Meditation Shows Potential for Relieving Pediatric Cancer Pain
September 17, 2014 – Heather Stringer
Skin Cancer's Risk is Cumulative
September 25, 2014 – Len Lichtenfeld, MD
Sunburns During Teen Years Increase Melanoma Risk
September 19, 2014 – Elizabeth Whittington
Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Conference
September 25, 2014 – Jon Garinn
Anchorman Scott Inspires at ESPYs
September 19, 2014 – Jennifer Nassar
Members of Congress Rally for Medicare Coverage of Lung Cancer Screening
September 19, 2014 – Lena Huang
Meeting Dr. Brodie
September 25, 2014 – Carolyn Choate
Hospice Provides Time and Space for End-of-Life Discussions
September 24, 2014 – Matt Stone
The Affordable Care Act and Access to Cancer Care
September 24, 2014 – Jennifer L. W. Fink, RN
Managing Arthralgia
September 25, 2014 – Lacey Marlow
Are You an Overbearing Caregiver?
September 25, 2014 – Don Vaughan
Living with Lymphedema
September 25, 2014 – Sonya Collins
The DCIS Dilemma
September 25, 2014 – Charlotte Huff
Preparing for a Cancer-Related Emergency
September 25, 2014 – Jeanne Erdmann
Prehabilitation Aims to Prepare Patients for What Lies Ahead
September 24, 2014 – Jane Hill
Currently Viewing
Is There a Connection Between Food Preservatives and Cancer?
September 23, 2014 – Amy Rushlow
Personalizing Cancer Care with Precision Medicine
September 25, 2014 – Maureen Salamon
Pipeline
September 25, 2014 – Katy Human
Tough Talk: Preparing for End of Life
September 24, 2014 – Kathy LaTour
Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation
September 23, 2014 – Katherine Lagomarsino
Comments From Readers
September 23, 2014

Is There a Connection Between Food Preservatives and Cancer?

While some research has shown that preservatives could be linked to cancer, the science is limited and contradictory.

BY Amy Rushlow
PUBLISHED September 23, 2014

A century ago, people could die from eating a sausage. Before the advent of modern preservatives, sausages were prone to harboring Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes potentially deadly botulism. In the first half of the 20th century, scientists conducted a significant amount of research on the antibacterial effects of nitrite—a preservative that is especially good at killing C. botulinum and is still widely used in processed meats today. There’s only one problem: some research suggests that nitrates, which become nitrites when our bodies digest them, could be linked to cancer.

Other artificial food preservatives have come under scrutiny as well. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an independent consumer advocacy group, recommends avoiding several food preservatives, including nitrites, due to their potential cancer link. But, some experts caution, the science is still limited and sometimes contradictory.

One of the major roles of preservatives is to increase the shelf life of foods. This has allowed stores to pack shelves with unhealthful items, such as sugary treats and processed foods, but it has also improved access to healthful foods, such as whole-wheat products and oils with unsaturated fats, says Karen Collins, a nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Preservatives also kill potentially dangerous microorganisms, such as the food poisoning culprit Listeria monocytogenes. “If you eliminated preservatives from the meat industry, there would probably be an outbreak of food-borne illness and death from C. botulinum and other toxins,” says Nathan Bryan, a biochemist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

The vast majority of research looks at specific preservatives. Among the most studied and the most controversial preservatives are nitrates/nitrites and BHA (butylated hyrdoxyanisole).

Nitrates and nitrites are found in processed and cured meats, such as hot dogs, bacon and lunch meats. A study published in 2012 found that American women with the highest dietary nitrate intake had a 31 percent greater risk of ovarian cancer than women with the lowest nitrate intake.

Another study found that people with the highest consumption of nitrites from animal sources were more likely to develop renal cell carcinoma. Nitrites can form nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens, but experts disagree on the extent to which these preservatives may contribute to cancer.

BHA is found in cereals, vegetable oils and snack chips. Some animal studies have linked the antioxidant BHA to certain forms of cancer, leading the government’s National Toxicology Program to conclude that BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Yet, the only recent human study on BHA and cancer, published in 2000, found no association between BHA and stomach cancer.

So, should people avoid preservatives? Lisa Lefferts, a senior scientist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says that many artificial preservatives can be replaced by using other chemicals, such as vitamin E, or alternative packaging processes.

“Of course, it’s important to understand that there are much bigger risks in the food supply, such as too much salt, sugar or trans fat,” Lefferts adds.

The bottom line: “Overall, when we look at preservatives, they are really unlikely to be a large portion of cancer risk,” Collins says. “It’s important for people to know that with a healthy lifestyle—physical activity, a basic healthy diet with a focus on plant foods and avoiding tobacco—we can prevent more than half of cancers.”

Be the first to discuss this article on CURE's forum. >>
Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.

Related Articles

1
×

Sign In

Not a member? Sign up now!
×

Sign Up

Are you a member? Please Log In