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Sourced from: Undoctored Blog,
authored by Dr. Davis, original posting date there: 2019-02-16
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There seems to be a lot of confusion about the issues
of nitrates, nitrites, and nitrosamines, so much that some people—including
book authors and doctors—are declaring that they are entirely benign and
not an issue for health. Let’s try and clear up the confusion.
Much of the confusion stems from the fact that nitrates
and nitrites occur in many foods, including vegetables and fruit. Upon ingestion,
nitrates and nitrites are converted
to nitric oxide, the master vasodilator (artery relaxing agent) that
thereby contributes to healthy arteries and blood pressure. So there is
nothing intrinsically wrong with nitrates or nitrites that are ingested via food.
Ah, but here’s the problem: When
heated, nitrites react with the NH3 (amine) group on proteins and yield
nitrosamines and other N-nitroso compounds such as
N-nitrosodimethylamine, NDMA. We have plenty of experimental evidence
that the 20+ known nitrosamines, including those from cigarettes, are
potent carcinogens. There is also emerging
evidence that N-nitroso compounds are associated with
The human evidence linking N-nitroso compounds with
cancer is observational and epidemiological. While I criticize over-reliance
on observational data that too often leads to mistaken conclusions in
nutrition, in this area we will never have clinical trial data, as it would
be unethical. To prove whether or not the carcinogenic observations made via
observational epidemiological studies hold true in a clinical trial, we would
have to have a group of people ingest nitrosamines and another group not ingest
nitrosamines and see who gets more cancers—obviously, this will never be
done. So, in this instance, it is unreasonable to demand that we generate
clinical trial confirmation of the observational data, although that is what
we do in the area of nutritional epidemiology. Can’t do that in cancer.
But this is the same level of evidence that we have for glyphosate, radon,
and asbestos as carcinogens.
So we are left with plenty of experimental data and weak
observational data that suggest that sodium nitrites that react with proteins
upon heating may be carcinogenic. That’s as solid as the argument
gets—but it’s good enough for me.
It means that, as I discussed in the Wheat Belly and
Undoctored books, we steer clear of meats containing sodium nitrite to avoid
inducing creation of N-nitroso compounds upon heating.