LivingRed meat and cancer: reveal the mechanism that relates...

Red meat and cancer: reveal the mechanism that relates them

In 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report concluding that red meat was “probably carcinogenic to humans” . An announcement that did nothing more than condense the extensive scientific literature that relates the high consumption of red meat with the incidence of cancer, specifically, of the colorectal type.

Also, a variety of studies find a relationship between sugars and the incidence of cancer as well as inflammation of the tissues, although scientists do not know exactly why.

A sucrose substance, called Neu5Gc , present in many animals, but not all; it is directly related to inflammation, arthritis, and even cancer. Of course, only in those animals that do not have the gene that encodes it, CMAH, including humans.

In the absence of this gene, the presence of Neu5Gc in the body is considered a foreign presence, which is detrimental to human health.

Now we know which animals have the harmful sugar and which do not, thanks to a study by the University of Nevada, in Reno (United States), led by the Spanish David Álvarez.

A finding that may be key to identifying which animals are best suited for human consumption ; as well as which ones may be more suitable for organ transplantation.

The main researcher, David Álvarez, a computer biologist with a doctorate in genetics, has detailed to Muy Interesante what the study has consisted of: “Through bioinformatics, we have developed a kind of genealogical tree of the evolution of this gene by analyzing 322 genomes, identifying this gene in some animals in which it was unknown that it existed “ .

The gene that got lost along the way

About two million years ago, our ancestors lost the CMAH gene, responsible for encoding the Neu5Gc sugar. For this reason, now the presence of this sugar in the human body is considered “a foreign substance”, with the consequent consequences for human health; and the same goes for other animals.

Thus, the team has discovered new animals that have lost this gene at some point in their evolution and are free of harmful sugar, as happened to humans.

Among them are two groups of bats, a type of whale, a type of deer, a type of amphibian called an axolotl, a type of hedgehog, a type of reptile, and the platypus; in addition to those animals that were already known to be devoid of this gene and that, therefore, are more suitable for human consumption, such as all birds or ferrets.

On the other hand, cows, lambs and pigs, but also various types of fish and other animals have the Neu5Gc gene and therefore sugar. “By consuming its meat, the human being acquires this sugar and it is toxic for us.”

Of the fish, it is known that many of them possess the gene in small quantities; however, “caviar does have high concentrations of Neu5Gc, although not so much in meat,” says Álvarez.

For their part, mice do present this type of sugar, unlike humans; which can become a bias when creating mouse models for the study of pathologies, especially in cancer. “Depending on the research, we should use animals that do not have this sugar, creating models of the animal from which we have eliminated the gene in question,” reveals Álvarez.

The presence or absence of this gene seems totally random. “We have not been able to understand why some species have lost the gene and others have not,” explains Álvarez, who acknowledges that future research should be devoted to this field of study.

As for humans, there are several hypotheses to explain why the ability to synthesize this sugar was produced thanks to the CMAH gene.

“The most widespread postulates that this gene was lost because it made us more vulnerable to certain diseases, such as a strain of malaria that does affect other animals, such as chimpanzees and gorillas,” the researcher details.

An evil sugar, only for some

Neu5Gc comes from another more primitive sugar, Neu5Ac, which is present on the surface of cells; This other previous sugar acts as a code or language between cells, which serves to recognize each other.

Although Neu5Gc is similar, it is toxic to us, simply because we do not have the gene that codes for it. However, that does not mean that we cannot synthesize it. In fact, in the human organism there are small concentrations of this substance, which is assimilated in the tissues; hence the damage it produces.

Although it is related to a higher incidence of cancer, among other conditions, it does not mean that it is totally toxic. “The body can survive perfectly healthy with low doses of this sugar, yes, in small quantities.”

Now, is the presence of this sugar what classifies animal products such as red or white meat?

Not quite. According to Álvarez, they are different classifications. In fact, some parts of the pig are considered white meat, although the entire animal has high concentrations of the harmful sugar.

In addition, this fact contravenes a recent trend in transplantation: trying to make pig organs the ideal candidates for transplants.

In the same way, fish are not considered red meat, but according to recent research, some of them have it and others do not.

Therefore, animals that, like humans, do not have Neu5Gc sugar naturally in the body would be the most suitable for consumption, such as birds.

However, in the near future it would be possible to create transgenic animals by eliminating this gene from their body, adapting them for human consumption without negative consequences for health.

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