Study: Just being close to a barbecue raises your cancer risk

Eating grilled meat has been known to increase the risk of cancer, but new research suggests that just standing near a grill makes you a candidate for the chronic disease. Interestingly enough, the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, indicates that the risk factor isn’t because of smoke inhalation but by the absorption of the harmful chemicals through the skin.

Cooking meat and other foods in high temperatures could lead to the release of toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have been found to cause genetic mutations that can lead to lung, bladder, and skin cancers. In particular, when meat, which is made up of muscle and fat issues, interacts with heat, amino acids, sugars, and other components react and drip onto the hot coals below, it is converted to PAHs. These PAHs get carried back upward to the food on the grill as it gets enveloped by the smoke. The PAHs then bind to the surface of the food, which means that most of the toxins from grilled food enter the body when eaten.

For the study, researchers from China recruited volunteers and made them stand at different distances from a grill. In addition, the study participants ate some of the food cooked on it. After the meat was cooked, the researchers assessed the urine samples of each of the participants.

Results revealed that people who ate the grilled food had the most amounts of PAHs in the body, while skin contact made a surprising difference in the extent of their carcinogen exposure. Aside from the PAHs, heated fat is converted into oil, which then turns into its gas form and goes with the smoke. The researchers discovered that the oil content of the smoke aids the skin to soak in the cancer-causing chemicals.

In addition, the researchers found that clothing cannot fully protect the skin against smoke. Furthermore, once clothes become smokey, continuing to wear them enables PAHs to soak into the skin more, which further increases the risk of cancer. Thus, the researchers concluded people who are exposed to grilling should cover up as much as they can and change their clothing immediately.

Eating grilled meat increases the risk of high blood pressure

Cooking meat at high temperatures, such as grilling, barbecuing, broiling, and roasting, does not only increase cancer risk but also raises the risk of high blood pressure, according to a study presented at an American Heart Association (AHA) meeting.

In the study, researchers followed a total of 103,881 men and women from the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II, and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. All of the participants were free from high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer at the beginning of the study.

After 12 to 16 years, 37,123 participants developed high blood pressure. Results revealed that people who ate grilled, broiled, or roasted meat more than 15 times every month, or every other day, had 17 percent higher risk of developing high blood pressure, than those who ate foods cooked at high temperatures less than four times a month. Moreover, people who preferred their food well done had 15 percent higher risk of developing high blood pressure in comparison to those who preferred rarer meats. (Related: Charbroiled, grilled meats increase high blood pressure… doesn’t matter if it’s red meat or fish.)

“Our findings imply that avoiding the use of open-flame and/or high-temperature cooking methods may help reduce hypertension risk among individuals who consume red meat, chicken or fish regularly,” explained Gang Liu, the lead author of the study.

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