How processed meats cause inflammation

Processed meat is any meat that has been altered through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Hot dogs, cured sausages, bacon, most deli meat, and jerky are all processed meat.

The act of processing the meat creates several chemical reactions in the meat. These chemical reactions also occur in so-called nitrate-free proceed meats. Nitrate-free processed meats (also called ‘uncured’) are often preserved with celery juice, a plant rich in a natural form of nitrate. Although it is natural, the same chemical reactions still occur. (If a product has celery juice in the ingredients, it still has nitrates.)

These reactions cause many chemical changes to occur in meat. Chemicals such as N-nitroso-compounds (NOC) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and advanced glycation end products are formed.

  • N-nitroso-compounds (NOC) cause intestinal inflammation and increase the risk of colorectal cancer.  NOC is classified as a carcinogen.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) also cause inflammation in the body and can also alter DNA. PAH are also classified as carcinogens.
  • Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) promote oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. When AGEs accumulate in the joints of those with OA, it increases the stiffness and brittleness of the joint tissue. AGEs are also produced in unprocessed meat (especially red meat) when they are cooked at a high temperature.