Cookouts & Cancer

Cookout Post

With 74 percent of American grill owners throwing a barbecue in celebration of Labor Day, including the top four cuisine favorites—burgers, steak, hot dogs, and chicken—dietary dangers abound. While many men typically focus on the impact of these foods on their waistline, these family gatherings can also unknowingly increase their risk of prostate cancer—the second largest cause of cancer death in American men.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has shown dietary factors account for 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries. One of the crucial findings was the correlation of people who avoided consuming meat and their dramatically decreased chance of acquiring cancers of all forms, including prostate cancer. As scientists continue to research prostate cancer, evidence shows an increased risk of prostate cancer development in men whose diets contains a high concentration of meat.

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On the surface, meat consumption as a whole is not the root of the problem. Instead, the issue occurs in meats when they have been cooked, especially those meats which are consumed well-done. When meats are cooking at a high temperature—this includes grilling and broiling—they create a carcinogen known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Although red meats have the stigma of being unhealthy, chicken is a key dietary contributor of HCAs in American men’s diets with pan-fried, oven broiled, and grilled chicken containing the highest traces. Cooking and consuming chicken with its skin actually triples the presence of HCAs.

In addition to HCAs, meats can also contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Like HCAs, PAHs are directly related to the cooking of meats and are shown to increase the risk of cancer. The contamination of PAHs occurs when meats are cooked over a direct flame. The meat excretes fat, which falls into the flame beneath. The fat is then turned in PAHs as it burns on the open flame. These PAHs drift up and stick to the foods being cooked. Meat cooked for longer periods of time and/or at higher temperatures contain more PAHs, increasing the consumer’s risk of cancer.

Although the preparation of meats has the most negative impact, it is important to know that the consumption of meats, regardless of preparation, can increase the risk of prostate cancer. Many meats contain a high fat concentration, which intensifies the production of hormones, specifically testosterone in men. The hormones can, in turn, escalate a man’s risk of prostate cancer. As a hormone-related cancer, prostate cancer can spread more quickly with the introduction of exogenous hormones, which increases testosterone production and triggers a rapid reproduction of the cancerous cells.

According to Harvard University’s Physicians’ Health Study, men who consume red meat at least five times per week have a much higher risk of developing prostate cancer than those who consume it less than once a week (2.5 times the risk). Another Harvard report known as the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study shows red meat has the highest correlation between consumption and diagnoses of advanced prostate cancer.

Make your holiday celebrations and family cookouts safe and healthy for all of your attendees. For men’s health, research has revealed two key arguments: minimize consumption of foods which are high in fat (meats, poultry, eggs, dairy, and calcium) and maximize consumption of fruits and vegetables to reduce the overall risk of prostate cancer. Also, be sure to pay attention when cooking meats, especially over an open flame. Be careful to reduce open-flame cooking when possible and avoid over-cooking meats.

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