Heavy Consumption of Cured Meat Linked to Impaired Lung Function

Paula Moyer, MA

September 07, 2006

September 7, 2006 (Munich) — People who eat high amounts of cured meat are more likely to have impairments of lung function that are the hallmarks of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a team of investigators who presented their findings here at the 16th annual meeting of the European Respiratory Society.

"Although smoking is the major cause of COPD, only 15% to 40% of smokers develop it," said presenting investigator Robert Graham Barr, MD, during a press briefing. Dr. Barr is an instructor in medicine in the pulmonary division at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

The investigative team was interested in a potential role for cured meats because "nitrite generates reactive nitrogen species that cause nitrosative or nitrative damage to the lung, as well as emphysematous changes, in animal models," Dr. Barr said. Because cured meats such as bacon, sausage, and processed meats are high in nitrite, which is used as a preservative, the investigators were concerned that it may also have a deleterious effect on human lung tissue.

Therefore, the investigators examined the large, representative population sample used in the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III. The investigators assessed the cured meat consumption of the 7581 respondents who were aged 45 years or older and for whom they had adequate diet and spirometry data by their response to a food frequency questionnaire.

The questionnaire categorized respondents' cured meat consumption as never, fewer than 3 times per month, 3 to 4 times per month, 5 to 13 times per month, and 14 or more times per month. The investigators then conducted statistical weighting analyses to adjust for age, sex, race or ethnicity, height, smoking status, and number of pack-years.


Of these respondents, those who ate cured meats 14 or more times per month had a forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV 1) that was an average of 115 mL lower than participants who never ate cured meats ( P < .001). Heavy consumption was also associated with a ratio of FEV 1 to forced vital capacity (FVC) that was an average of 2.11% lower than lighter consumption ( P < .001). However, the difference in FVC was 60 mL lower in the heavy consumption group, a difference that was not statistically significant. When the investigators adjusted for education, income, body mass index, waist circumference, physical activity, and total energy intake, the differences remained. The differences were independent of respondents' smoking status.

"This was a very interesting study and I was surprised that the effects seen were so large," said Jørgen Vestbo, MD, in an independent comment. Dr. Vestbo, a professor of respiratory medicine at North West Lung Centre at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, United Kingdom, chaired the session during which Dr. Barr made his presentation.


"The study could have implications for future research and for health policy as well, but there seems to be a few issues that need to be addressed," Dr. Vestbo told Medscape. "Subjects who eat more of a particular food item usually eat less of others; for cured meat it is likely that subjects who eat a lot will also eat less vegetables, fruit, and fish. This may distort the picture, but may not at all explain the findings in NHANES. I will look forward to seeing if other studies can replicate these findings before taking firm action here."

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

ERS 16th Annual Meeting: Abstract 1710. Presented September 5, 2006.

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