Frequent consumption of cured meat may negatively affect lung function and increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. That is because the nitrites used in meats such as bacon, lunch meats and sausage generate reactive nitrogen species that can cause damage to the lung and contribute to emphysema, at least in animal models.
The study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University, analyzed data from 7,352 subjects enrolled in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to assess the impact of diet on lung function. To rule out any outlying factors, researchers studied the demographic differences between those who consumed cured meats and those who did not.
They found that individuals who consumed cured meats were more likely to be tobacco-using males of lower socioeconomic status and who were less likely to report physician-diagnosed asthma than individuals who did not consume cured meats. Further, those who consumed cured meats also had lower intakes of vitamin C, beta-carotene, fish, fruits, vegetables and vitamin or mineral supplements and higher intakes of vitamin E and total energy.
However, after adjusting for a range of possible confounding factors, including smoking, total calories in diet and the use of dietary supplements, researchers found that cured meat consumption was inversely linked to measures of lung function. Researchers found that subjects who consumed cured meat at least 14 times per month were 78 percent more likely to develop COPD than those who did not. The corresponding increased risk of mild, moderate and severe COPD were 11 percent, 46 percent and 141 percent, respectively.
In conclusion, researchers have classified high dietary levels of nitrites as a novel risk factor for COPD. They note that further study is warranted in prospective longitudinal studies.