Does Red Meat Cause Breast Cancer?

As a culture we are quit obsessed with what gives us cancer. This is no surprise, as cancer is the leading cause of death in the world. I wrote an article last week detailing exactly how to make yourself bulletproof against cancer. I detailed how cancer has become such a big topic in the world of health because we have set ourselves up to come down with it. Cancer didn’t used to be how everyone died. Even 500 years ago we simply did not have near the same levels of cancer. We can trace the growth of cancer back to the industrial revolution. When we started exposing ourselves to potent carcinogens in our environment we began a process of blatant disregard for the potential health downsides of man made materials and chemicals. We forged ahead in the name of science and progress in pursuit of newer and better materials, often at the cost of our own health.

During this journey of progress, a switch flipped in the collective unconscious, starting in the minds of the elite. Meat was seen as a food that was centered around cruelty, around immorality and unnecessary suffering (after 2 million plus years of meat being a staple food, mind you). In the beginning of the 19th century as wars tugged at national resources, we began to make a focus on grain-based agriculture to feed the population. Consumption of animals went down and rates of cancer, heart disease, and obesity began to climb. Processed grain, sugar, and vegetable seed oils not only pervaded Western culture but began to spread into traditional cultures diets. This process of modern disease spreading through dietary change was documented by Dr. Weston. A Price in his landmark book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Ive talked about this at length before, and won’t spend much time getting into the specifics. The point is that cultures that based their entire diet around animal foods (red meat), had near zero rates of disease until they were introduced to modern processed grains, sugars, and pasteurized dairy products. Traditional cultures of the world were not getting breast cancer on their ancestral diets.

Despite the fact that no study has ever shown a causative link between breast cancer and red meat, the fact remains that women are often told to eat less red meat to mitigate their risk of cancer. This belief comes from the focus on what are called observational studies. These are based on food recall questionnaires. Let’s look at a big study that had everyone freaking out in 2014. The study was based completly on the women recall of what they ate in adolescence. From the study:

“Food intake during adolescence was measured in 1998 using a 124 item food frequency questionnaire, which was specifically designed to contain foods that were usually consumed during the periods from 1960 to 1980 when these women would have been in high school. Food items included in the food frequency questionnaire for adolescents and response categories were similar to those in the food frequency questionnaire for adults.”

The women were asked to recall how many times they ate red meat as a teenager. Can you remember what you had for breakfast yesterday? The fact that the study was based on this is pretty incredible. The study made no acknowledgment of any other aspect of the women’s lifestyle, beyond excluding those that already had cancer or diabetes or were obese. They then tried to put 2 and 2 together that the women who ate the most red meat as an adolescent had the biggest risk of develop cancer. They made no acknowledgment of their activity levels (which have an enormous effect on the likelihood of cancer). There was no differentiation between fast food or a good grass fed steak. They did not specify if the meat was cooked to within an inch of its life in vegetable and served with a bun and canola oil soaked fries and sugary ketchup. I could go on. The fact is that a heightened intake of red meat if often associated with unhealthy individuals. People that eat a lot of red meat often eat a lot of other things they shouldn’t be (sugar, grains, processed foods), and live in a way that is generally not life affirmative (no exercise, disrupted circadian rhythm, low nutrient foods, poor glucose control). This is what all “meat causes cancer” studies hinge themselves on. Isolating one variable in an extremely complex life and saying “That’s is! Red meat causes the cancer”! It’s sad. Let’s look at all the evidence that is backed by actual science saying the complete opposite.

Just as we can use observational studies to show red meat causes cancer, we can use them to show now link to cancer. This one looked at dietary intake of heme iron, the type of iron in red meat. No correlation between breast cancer and a higher intake of heme iron was observed. You know what may be connected? High intake of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and breast cancer (think vegetable oils, found in basically all processed foods what all fast food is made in. That “heart healthy” granola you see everywhere is covered in the stuff). Good thing that a pasture raised piece of meat is high in anti-inflammatory omega-3’s.

Ok, but what about animal fat? We know that that causes cancer right? Wrong. The only thing linking those two things have been food questionnaire studies. Here is one that shows no correlation between animal fat intake and cancer. Red meat may actually be protective against breast cancer. CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) is a nutrient found in red meat. It looks like CLA imparts protective benefits against breast cancer. Another nutrient in meat, carnation, was shown to “decrease the production of tumour-promoting agents, polyamines, and increase the production of NO (nitric oxide), thereby exerting a protective effect on cancer development“. These are studies looking at causative factors, not just saying you got cancer because you eat fast food and call that “red meat”.

So why does the anti-meat message keep getting pushed? People want it to be true. Heck, even in studies where red meat consumption was associated with an inverse risk of cancer the conclusion was to eat more fruits and vegetables. Meat simply cannot be linked to cancer, no matter how much we want it to be. We want the answer to be simple. We want to be told, “don’t eat those poor animals, it’ll give you cancer”. The hard truth is that cancer is so multifaceted that you cannot blame any one thing. It is a combination of many different lifestyle factors. I detail this in my last article. We need to maintain strength and lean mass. We need to sleep and have our circadian rhythms running smoothly. We need to drink clean water and limit exposure to industrial chemicals. We need to eat food that we are evolved to eat (animals and plants). If steps are taken to live life from an ancestral perspective, the foundation for cancer will not be laid in the first place. In the meantime, go out and get a nice grass fed unless burger and know you are eating real food.

Thanks for reading everyone. Make sure to sign up below to get a free copy of our ebook, 3 Elements to Lifelong Health, and we will see you next week!

Elliot Steele is a Primal Health Coach based in Chelan WA.  He strives to empower those looking to regain their health after a lifetime of misinformed  practices.  This is the essence of Steele Back Your Health, to truly learn how to be healthy with sustainable habits.  Check out the coaching and blog page for more info!

2 thoughts on “Does Red Meat Cause Breast Cancer?

    1. Exactly. Looking at results like that and not clearly knowing if the meat directly caused anything, then saying it does is irresponsible. The relative risk that was calculated is not even significant, yet studies like this are used to scare us from animal foods.


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