Consumption of red/processed meat and colorectal carcinoma: Possible mechanisms underlying the significant association

Ulf Hammerling (Corresponding Author), Jonas Bergman Laurila, Roland Grafström, Nils-Gunnar Ilbäck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Epidemiology and experimental studies provide an overwhelming support of the notion that diets high in red or processed meat accompany an elevated risk of developing pre-neoplastic colorectal adenoma and frank colorectal carcinoma (CRC). The underlying mechanisms are disputed; thus several hypotheses have been proposed. A large body of reports converges, however, on haem and nitrosyl haem as major contributors to the CRC development, presumably acting through various mechanisms. Apart from a potentially higher intestinal mutagenic load among consumers on a diet rich in red/processed meat, other mechanisms involving subtle interference with colorectal stem/progenitor cell survival or maturation are likewise at play. From an overarching perspective, suggested candidate mechanisms for red/processed meat-induced CRC appear as three partly overlapping tenets: (i) increased N-nitrosation/oxidative load leading to DNA adducts and lipid peroxidation in the intestinal epithelium, (ii) proliferative stimulation of the epithelium through haem or food-derived metabolites that either act directly or subsequent to conversion, and (iii) higher inflammatory response, which may trigger a wide cascade of pro-malignant processes. In this review, we summarize and discuss major findings of the area in the context of potentially pertinent mechanisms underlying the above-mentioned association between consumption of red/processed meat and increased risk of developing CRC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)614-634
JournalCritical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Dietary patterns
  • fat peroxidation
  • haem
  • morphogenetic pathways
  • N-nitroso compounds
  • nitrosyl-haem
  • red/processed meat
  • intestinal carcinogenesis


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