Processed Meats Up Chances of Developing COPD, Emphysema, Other Lung Ailments

Nitrites in processed meats might be putting some people at risk of developing serious lung <"">diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis.  According to emerging research, men who smoke may be increasing their risk of developing emphysema and chronic bronchitis if they eat lots of cured meats such as sausage, ham, bologna, bacon, and hot dogs which contain high levels of nitrites.  Nitrites are added to these meats to prevent rancidity and bacterial growth and to also enhance the meat’s pink color.  And just like cigarette smoking and air pollution, nitrites generate molecules known as reactive oxygen and nitrogen species that have been linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Dr. Raphaelle Varraso of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and colleagues note.

COPD is a lung disease in which the lungs are damaged, making it hard to breathe because the lung’s airways become partly obstructed, making it difficult to get air in and out. In healthy people, each airway is clear and open. The chief risk factor for COPD, which encompasses chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is cigarette smoking.  Research by Varraso and colleagues suggests that eating cured meats may worsen the harmful effects of smoking on risk of COPD.  In COPD, the airways and air sacs lose their shape and become floppy. Less air gets in and less air goes out because the airways and air sacs lose their elasticity (like an old rubber band), the walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed, the walls of the airways become thick and inflamed (swollen), or the cells in the airways make more mucus (sputum) than usual, which tends to clog the airways.  COPD develops slowly, and it may be many years symptoms appear, like feeling short of breath. Most of the time, COPD is diagnosed in middle-aged or older people.  COPD is a major cause of death and illness, and it is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and throughout the world.  There is no cure for COPD and damage to airways and lungs cannot be reversed.

Researchers reviewed data on 42,915 men participating in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, 111 of whom were diagnosed with COPD within 12 years of enrolling in the study.  Men who ate cured meats at least once a day were 2.64 times more likely than those who almost never ate cured meats to develop COPD, the researchers found.  Cured meat consumption has also been linked to diabetes and certain types of cancer, Varraso noted in comments to Reuters Health.  “Uncured” versions of processed meats are likely no better for health, according to the researcher.  But regardless of the current findings, Varraso added, the most important way to protect oneself from COPD is to quit smoking.

Another recent study presented new evidence that backed up the theory that eating a lot of red and processed meat can increase the risk of bowel and lung cancer.  The study found that those who ate the most red meat exhibited an increased risk of developing colorectal, liver, lung, and esophageal cancer compared with those who ate the least red and processed meats.

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