A non-human, cellular molecule is absorbed into human tissues as a result of eating red meat and milk products, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, published online the week of September 29, 2003 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers also showed that the same foreign molecule generates an immune response that could potentially lead to inflammation in human tissues.
Several previous studies have linked ingestion of red meat to cancer and heart disease, and possibly to some disorders involving inflammation. However, that research has primarily focused on the role of red-meat saturated fats and on products that arise from cooking. The UCSD study is the first to investigate human dietary absorption of a cell-surface molecular sugar called N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), which is found in non-human mammals. Not produced in humans, Neu5Gc occurs naturally in lamb, pork and beef, the so-called “red meats”. Levels are very low or undetectable in fruits, vegetables, hen’s eggs, poultry and fish.
Conducting laboratory studies with human tissue, followed by tests in three adult subjects, the UCSD team provided the first proof that people who ingest Neu5Gc absorb some of it into their tissues. In addition, they demonstrated that many humans generate an immune response against the molecule, which the body sees as a foreign invader.
Sue Pondrom | UCSD
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