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Too much ham and bacon may prove 'un'healthy

Frequent consumption of cured meats could pose risk to the lungs, says a US study.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 17, 2007 17:35 IST

A new study has found that frequent consumption of cured meats results in lower lung function test scores and increases the odds of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD results from chronic bronchitis and emphysema, two inflammatory lung diseases that frequently co-exist and interfere with breathing.

The study was conducted at Columbia University Medical Centre in New York by Rui Jiang, M.D, and three associates.

As part of the study, researchers examined 7,352 individuals who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted from 1988 to 1994 by the National Center for Health Statistics. The average age of participants was 64.5 years, and 48 per cent were male.

Researchers found that the that the 'odds ratio' for developing COPD among individuals who consumed cured meat products 14 times or more per month, was 1.93, as compared with those who did not consume cured meats. An 'odds ratio' greater than 1, implies that the event is more likely to occur within that group.

"Individuals who consumed cured meats frequently were more likely to be male, of lower socio-economic status, to be tobacco users, and were less likely to report physician-diagnosed asthma than individuals who never consumed cured meats," Dr. Jian said.

"Those who consumed cured meats more frequently had lower intakes of vitamin C, beta-carotene, fish, fruits, vegetables, and vitamin or mineral supplements. They also had higher intakes of vitamin E and total energy," he added.

The hazard ratio from cured meats did not change after researchers made adjustments for multiple dietary and other risk factors.

"Adjustment for these factors in our analyses did not appreciably change our findings, suggesting that the observed association between cured meats and lung function was unlikely to be explained by potential dietary confounding factors reported in previous studies," Dr. Jiang said.

Earlier, certain rodent studies have suggested that inhalation of nitrogen dioxide may contribute to emphysema, but no other human studies to date have examined the relationship between consumption of cured meats and COPD.

"Cured meats, such as bacon, sausage, luncheon meats and cured hams, are high in nitrites, which are added to meat products as a preservative, an anti-microbial agent, and a colour fixative. Nitrates generate reactive nitrogen species that may cause damage to the lungs, producing structural changes resembling emphysema," Dr. Jiang said.

The researchers noted that high dietary nitrite intake warrants further evaluation in prospective longitudinal studies as a novel risk factor for COPD.

The findings of the research were published in the April 2007 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published by the American Thoracic Society.