How Cured Meats Might be Bad for Your Lungs

Here is another reason you might want to skip the bacon and sausage at breakfast – according to recent medical studies, eating cured meats increases the risk of developing COPD, and there is evidence that it can also cause the condition to worsen. If you already have an increased risk of developing COPD due to your history as a smoker and genetics, then you will definitely want to cut down your consumption of cured meats, or cut it out of your diet completely.

Why are cured meats so bad for you, and how can they possibly affect your lungs? You might not think that what you eat can have such a major effect on your lung function, but there are many types of foods that can improve lung function if you eat them enough. Since this is true, then the reverse is also true – there are some things present in food that will have a negative affect on your lungs.

In the case of cured meats, nitrates are thought to be the blame. There is enough evidence that suggests that even eating one slice of ham a day over the course of two years will double your risk of developing lung disease. To put this into perspective, think about how much bacon, hot dogs and lung meat you've eaten over the course of your life. Nitrates have also been found to be a contributing factor to the development of certain types of cancer, most notably stomach cancer.

Nitrates are the chemical preservatives widely used to keep meat fresh longer, and are present in deli meats, spam, bacon, hot dogs, sausages and the like. Nitrates can also be found in other kinds of frozen and processed foods, so you will need to keep an eye out and pay attention to ingredients if you are trying to completely avoid nitrates.

The fact that nitrates have been found to increase the risk of stomach cancer makes sense, since they come into direct contact with the stomach and digestive system, but why are nitrates bad for your lungs, and for COPD especially? While researchers aren't 100% sure about the details as to how nitrates affect the lungs and can increase the risk of COPD, there is a theory.

Over the course of a two year study, people with COPD, those who had eaten high amounts of cured meats and a group of those who had not, were monitored to see who had to be hospitalized more. The COPD patients who had eaten high amounts of cured meats were found to be hospitalized more for exacerbations, than those who laid off the lunch meat and hot dogs.

The researchers suspected that this is because nitrates cause the production of nitrogen in our bodies, and in high amounts, can cause tissue damage. COPD, specifically emphysema, is caused by the damage done to the tiny alveoli sacks in the lungs. Alveoli can be thought of as the gateways between the lungs and the blood stream, where carbon dioxide and oxygen are exchanged. In people with emphysema, these are damaged and cannot work correctly. Nitrates can also cause this kind of damage, as well as general tissue damage in the lungs, which will also complicate lung conditions.

Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

About Scott Ridl: Scott joined American Medical Sales and Rentals in 2008 as a Web Manager and Content Writer. He is a writer and designer. He is extensively trained on oxygen therapy products from leading manufacturers such as Inogen, Respironics, Chart, Invacare, ResMed and more. Scott works closely with respiratory therapists and oxygen specialists to educate the community about oxygen therapy products, COPD, asthma and lung diseases. He writes weekly columns and is passionate about educating the community on oxygen therapy and respiratory issues.

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