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 Breast Health Tip #20: Avoid Red Meat 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Dr. Christine Horner's Natural Secrets for Breast Health by . View all columns in series

Environmental toxins, such as pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and industrial chemicals, accumulate, concentrate and store in animal fat. Many of these toxins have estrogenic effects. In other words, they act like estrogen in the body and accelerate cell division. Many studies have shown that these pesticides can trigger breast cancer and that those women who have high levels of these pesticides in their bodies have a much higher risk of breast cancer.

When red meats are cooked at high temperatures, additional carcinogens known as "heterocyclic amines" are formed. These sinister molecules attack DNA, destroying its vital code in a way that seriously increases the risk of cancer. Frying and grilling are the methods of cooking that use the highest temperatures to cook meat, and they are associated with the highest risk of breast cancer. The higher the cooking temperature, the more carcinogenic heterocyclic amines form. How long you cook your meat makes a difference, too. The more well done your meat is, the more heterocyclic amines it will have, and the more carcinogenic it will be.

Research shows that of the women who eat red meat, those who eat both the most grilled and the most well-done red meat have the highest risk of breast cancer. A study from Vanderbilt University published in 2002 found that women who consumed large amounts of red meat, especially cooked well done, had a significantly higher risk of breast cancer. If the women were also overweight, their risk was even greater. Another study, done at the Medical College of Ohio and published in the journal Carcinogenesis in 1999, found that an enzyme in breast tissue called "N-acetyltransferase" activates the carcinogens in well-done red meat and in cigarette smoke. The study also identified several different subtypes of the N-acetyltransferase enzyme. The risk of breast cancer in women who had one particular subtype of this enzyme was extremely high. The women who had this dangerous subtype and who also smoked, ate a lot of red meat, or ate well-done red meat were found to have a 400 percent higher risk of breast cancer. In short, eating well-done red meat is always risky, but it is exceptionally risky for certain women.

If you love the taste and texture of red meat, don’t think you have to give it up.

The ever-growing and surprisingly delicious vegetable-based meat-substitute cuisine has come a long way. Even committed carnivores will find many of the meat mimickers to be a culinary delight. For instance, my rebellious teenager couldn't tell the difference between a Boca Burger (made with soy protein) and an actual hamburger! Also, some vegetarians (I, for one) think some meat substitutes taste too much like the real thing!

If you do like the taste of meat, however, there are delicious substitutes for hamburgers, frankfurters, salami, lunchmeats, chicken, turkey, jerky—you name it. The next time you’re at your local health food store, experiment and give one a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Many chain grocery stores carry them, too.

The list below shows some good substitutes for your old meaty favorites.

  • Instead of bacon, try Lightlife Smart Bacon
  • Instead of chicken, try Gardenburger Chik'n Grill or Nate's Chicken Style Nuggets
  • Instead of hamburgers, try Boca Burgers or Morningstar Farms Grillers Prime
  • Instead of hot dogs, try Yves Veggie Cuisine Good Dog
  • Instead of turkey, try To-furkey
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 About The Author
Christine Horner, MD is a board certified and nationally recognized surgeon, author, professional speaker and a relentless champion for women's health. She spearheaded legislation in the......moreChristine Horner MD, FACS
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