Diets high in bacon, ham and hot dogs bad for the lungs

A study by researchers in the U.S. has found that cured meats such as bacon, ham, and hot dogs can cause lung damage.

According to scientists from Columbia University Medical Centre in New York, additives called nitrites in the meat can harm the body and make breathing difficult.

In a study of 7,352 Americans age 45 or older, it was found that people who ate cured meat products 14 times a month or more were almost twice as likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as those who consumed none.

COPD covers a range of lung diseases, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which cause a narrowing of the airways and obstruct the flow of air.

More than 30,000 people in England and Wales die from COPD every year, making it the sixth most common cause of death, while in the U.S. 10.7 million are sufferers and it is the 4th leading cause of death there.

The research team found that those who ate a lot of cured meats were 1.93 times more likely to develop COPD than those who ate none and they also performed more poorly in lung function tests.

Lead author Dr Rui Jiang, says cured meats, such as bacon, sausage, luncheon meats and hams, are high in nitrites, which are added to meat products as a preservative, an anti-microbial agent and a colour fixative and they may produce structural changes resembling emphysema and cause lung damage.

The researchers also found that high consumers of cured meats were more likely to be male, of lower socio-economic status, to smoke and to have low intakes of fruits, vegetables and vitamins.

However the researchers say adjustment for these risk factors did not significantly change the results.

In defence the industry trade group the American Meat Institute says the findings were based on outdated assumptions about nitrite levels in cured meats and that cured meats are among the safest meat products on the market.

It also appears that people who eat a lot of cured meats could be more likely to have an unhealthy diet and lifestyle which might account for the higher lung disease risk.

Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of COPD and kills as many as 120,000 Americans each year.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

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