Friday, January 02, 2015

Neu5Gc and Red Meat

There was a really nice article via Pork Network related to a recent study linking inflammation and cancer to a sugar molecule found in red meat called Neu5Gc.

"James Paulson at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., who is considered an expert on Neu5Gc and other similar compounds, suggested as much. “This report might stimulate entrepreneurial breeders to develop cattle stocks deficient in this nonhuman sugar,” he quoted in the story. Varki even suggested that the study might point the way toward developing an antidote to counteract the risk of cancer."

I have already seen some in social media proposing that this is another reason we should eat only local, organic, or grass fed meat if we are going to eat red meat at all. Red meat often gets a bad rap because all sorts of products fall under the umbrella of 'red meat.' However, I wonder if most people and most studies distinguish healthy meat choices (like the 29 cuts of lean beef that provide comparable levels of saturated fats + loads more nutrients than an equivalent serving of boneless skinless chicken). 

Even if the results are replicated and causal connections are actually established in human health, additional research would have to confirm that production practices can influence Neu5Gc levels before we can make any claims that organic/natural/hormone free/antibiotic free/local sources are better in this regard. The more likely scenario I think is that proposed by the pork writer above, and that  the real impact of this research will be played out in modern livestock production systems and breeding programs that use advanced techniques (i.e. quantitative genetic applications such as QTL/MAS) or who knows even some of the first commercially viable animal biotech applications accepted by consumers as beneficial to human health. 

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