When the risk of developing liver tumor, esophagus or stomach? The potentially carcinogenic molecules that can be linked to these types of cancer are the nitrosammine. There is an alarm raised by EFSA on nitrosamines which is based on a study that brings together several opinions and observations. On these same chemical compounds, the lighthouse of theInternational Agency for Research on Cancer. Now even the Food Safety Authority is categorical: the exposure of consumers to nitrosammine found in food is raising health concerns.
Nitrosamines, what they are and where they are
Nitrosamines (or more formally N-Nitrosamines) are chemical compounds that can form in foods following their preparation and transformation. They have been detected in various types of food products, such as those meat obtained by salting, processed fish, cocoa, beer and other alcoholic beverages. Nitrosamines may also be present in cooked meat, processed vegetables, grains, dairy products, or fermented, pickled, and spiced foods. Some nitrosamines are genotoxic (can damage DNA) e carcinogenic.
In its study, EFSA assessed the potential harm caused by nitrosamines to humans and animals and consumer exposure. Dieter Schrenkchair of the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain, confirmed that ‘for all age groups of the European population, the level of exposure to nitrosamines in food raises health concerns’.
The level of exposure refers to the relationship between two factors: the dose at which a small but measurable adverse effect is observed and the level of exposure to a substance for a given population. “To ensure a high level of consumer protection, for our risk assessment – explained the expert – we proposed the worst case scenario: we assumed that all the nitrosamines present in food had the same carcinogenic potential in humans as the most harmful effects of nitrosamines, although this is unlikely.’
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Nitrosamines, the risk of liver cancer
Animal studies have shown that the most critical effect concerns the risk of developing liver cancer. Currently, there are some knowledge gaps on the presence of nitrosamines in specific food categories. Balance your diet with a wider variety of productscould according to EFSA “help consumers reduce the intake of these harmful substances”.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has long included nitrosamines in the group of genotoxic and carcinogenic compounds.
How nitrosamines are formed
Their training can be favored by high temperatures or occurs naturally in the body during digestion, when nitrites – in an acid environment – are transformed into nitrous acidwhich by reaction with a secondary amino group then gives rise to nitrosamines. Nitrite salts are often used as a preservative. EFSA’s advice will now be shared with the European Commission, which will discuss with national authorities what risk management measures are needed.
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Nitrites, nitrates and nitrosamines
Nitrates and nitrites, mainly used in storage of meat and sausages, can undergo chemical modifications which transform them into nitrosamines. Excessive and prolonged consumption of nitrites is associated with an increased risk of stomach and oesophageal cancers. The most important food group contributing to nitrosamine exposure is meat and meat products.
Nitrates occur naturally in a variety of foods, including vegetables (chard, celery, turnips, spinach), and in drinking water. Nitrites are used as preservatives because they are essential to prevent the development of potentially very dangerous pathogenic microorganisms, including Clostridium botulinum which causes botulism. By themselves, nitrates are harmless. However, they can be converted into nitrites by the action of the salivary glands in the mouth. Nitrites, in turn, can combine with other molecules, amines, present in protein-rich foods such as meat, cured meats, cheeses, to form N-nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic.