Simple sugar from meat associated with increased risk of cancer


02.01.2015 – When carnivorous animals consume red meat this shows no adverse effects on their health, but that is not the case in humans. Epidemiological studies have shown that consumption of red meat increases the risk of many diseases, including cancer, atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes. A study published 29 December 2014 in the on-line edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that, at least in mice, consumption of a sugar named Neu5Gc causes spontaneous onset of cancer in the absence of other carcinogens.


Neu5Gc, full named N-Glycolylneuraminic acid, is a simple sugar with 9 carbon atoms which can be found in many mammalian tissues. Scientists from the University of California San Diego found the link between meat consumption and cancer where this sugar acted as a promotor for inflammation and cancer progression.

The study was conducted on mice which were engineered not to produce Neu5Gc – that is the same situation that exists in humans, who are the only mammals not able to synthetise Neu5Gc. Feeding this type of mice with Neu5Gc sugar resulted in spontaneous formation of carcinomas. There was a five-fold increase in cancer incidence, and the Neu5Gc molecules accumulated in tumors cells – this type of accumulation was found earlier in human and fetal cancer cells.

Red meat (beef, pork, lamb) is rich in N-glycolylneuraminic acid. These molecules from animal sources are bioavailable to man which means that the blood distributes Neu5Gc through the circulatory system and then it enters all tissues. The hypothesis that the consumption of red meat cause inflammation was proven to be right. Human immune system recognizes Neu5Gc as a foreign molecule and produces antibodies which are continuously elevated leading to a state of chronic inflammation. It is already known that chronic inflammation promotes tumor formation.

Yet, we will have to wait for conclusive evidence in humans. Awaiting for new scientific evidence this study may help explain the potential link between the consumption of red meat, cancer and other diseases which are exacerbated by chronic inflammatory processes.

Heather Buschman. Sugar Molecule Links Red Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk Elevated in Mice. 29 December 2014,


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