In late October of this year, I read the headline – as I’m sure many of us did – that the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report that the consumption of both red and processed meats can increase our chance of certain cancers due to the carcinogens contained in them. The report was based on, “an analysis of more than 800 epidemiological studies,” which was evaluated by 22 scientists, from 10 countries, at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Apparently there are several designations of carcinogens that are the biggest threats to causing cancer, with Group 1 being the highest and most dangerous. To put it in perspective, tobacco and asbestos are both in Group 1 and now, according to the report from WHO, so is processed meat, such as hot dogs, bacon, sausages and even, “meat by-products, such as blood“. The report placed red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat) in a Group 2A category and found these products to be “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
From an information standpoint, I was elated that this made the regular news feed. To have something so definitive in the headline encouraged me because some people will indeed take it seriously. I mean, at this point, it’s not exactly a news flash that red meat is bad for you but to have it clearly stated in this way – that red and processed meats will increase a person’s chance of getting cancer – is definitely sounding the alarm in the name of public health. I was, of course, also frustrated that so many of us are only hearing this now or via the headlines rather than from our family doctors. I can only speak to my experience of healthcare in Canada but I can tell you this: not once in my life has a doctor ever talked to me about the specifics of my diet. As a 41-year old female, they are now more preoccupied with when they can start sending me for mammograms than they are about what I’m actually ingesting as food on any given day.
But I’m going off the rails here.
What I wanted to post about was after this report came out, I re-read some excerpts from John Robbins’ book, Diet for a New America, and what he writes about carcinogens. (If you are at all new to a vegan diet or just exploring the issues, I highly recommend any of John Robbins’ work. He is clear, concise, non-judgemental and well-informed. I think his books are for anyone but I favour them particularly if you’re just starting out.)
Anyway, in chapter 9 of the aforementioned book entitled, Losing a War We Could Prevent, he illustrates some of the physiological differences between the intestines of humans and those of carnivorous animals:
“The human intestine has a very hard time handling the putrefying bacteria, high levels of fat, and lack of fiber that characterize meat, dairy products, and eggs. There are other animals, though, whose intestines seem designed for the task.
The human intestine is anatomically very different from that of the natural carnivore, such as dogs and cats. Because of the design of their intestines, these animals are virtually guaranteed short transit times.
Our bowel walls are deeply puckered; theirs are smooth. Ours are full of pouches; theirs have none. Our colons are long, complex pathways, like a winding mountain road full of hairpin turns; theirs are short, straight chutes, like wide-open freeways. The toxins from putrefying flesh are not the problem for them that they are for us because everything passes through them so much more quickly. Dogs, cats, and other natural carnivores do not get colon cancer from high-fat, low-fiber, flesh-based diets. But we do.”
He also explains why it is so much more difficult for us to digest meat and why they are carcinogenic to us in the first place, information that nearly blew the brains out of my skull the first time I read it:
“The digestion of meat itself produces strong carcinogenic substances in the colon, and meat-eaters must produce extensive bile acids in their intestines to deal with the meat they eat, particularly deoxycholic acid. This is extremely significant, because deoxycholic acid is converted by clostridia bacteria in our intestines into powerful carcinogens. The fact that meat-eaters invariably have far more deoxycholic acid in their intestines than do vegetarians is one of the reasons they have so much higher rates of colon cancer.
Researchers who analyze and test human feces can distinguish the feces of meat-eaters from those of vegetarians by their smell. They report that the eliminations of meat-eaters smell far stronger and more noxious than those of non-meat-eaters. There is a serious reason. Putrefying animal products are far more toxic than rotting plant products, and meat-eaters’ colons are continually subjected to these toxins.”
Who knew there was so much shit in shit! But for real, this was incredible to me. And it made me wonder if humans are truly designed to eat meat. Physiologically speaking, it seems we aren’t. And the more I read, the more I discover that humans share more similarities with herbivores than we do with omnivores or carnivores: we have blunt teeth, rather than fangs, teeth that are more suitable to chewing than tearing. We have hands, not claws. As already pointed out, we have far longer intestines than carnivorous animals and our bowels are also shaped and textured differently.
I find the human body endlessly fascinating and if what we are putting into it is creating health problems, then what better messenger is there to inform us that we need to make changes? In the same way I yearn for people to see animals for who there as opposed to items on an ingredients list, my hope is that we will also see ourselves in the same way: as living, breathing beings whose bodies are designed for certain things and not for others. For too long our ill-health has become our cage and I believe, through a proper vegan diet, we have the power to liberate our bodies from this misery of excess weight, fad diets, chronic disease and early death.