Hot dogs. They’re right up there with ice cream and sweet corn as a quintessential American summer food. Personally, I think they’re disgusting, although I know I ate my fair share as a kid. But I also remember the headlines when I was in college that several studies had suggested a link between hot dog consumption and childhood cancer. That’s beyond disgusting, and I am making sure to keep my kids far from hot dogs.
But now it seems like hot dogs may be bad for older people, too. A study published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that the nitrites and nitrates in hot dogs, other cured and processed meats, and even root vegetables due to commercial fertilizer use, could be linked to increased mortality from age related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes.
Nitrites and nitrates are chemicals used as food preservatives and fertilizers. The problem comes when these chemicals are cooked or exposed to stomach acids and then convert to nitrosamines, which are known cancer-causing chemicals.
These researchers looked at mortality rates for people aged 74-85 years old between 1968 and 2005. They compared mortality rates for different age related diseases, and found something shocking. Mortality rates for diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons and diabetes all increased dramatically over this time period, while rates for other age related diseases such as cerebrovascular disease stayed steady or even declined.
The scientists also found that during this same period of time, between 1955 and 2005, nitrogen-containing fertilizer consumption increased by 230 percent. Even more disturbing, such fertilizer consumption doubled between 1960 and 1980, which just precedes the insulin-resistant epidemics the researchers found. Exposure to these toxins through fast food increased also due to an 8-fold increase in fast food sales during this time period.
According to lead scientist Suzanne de la Monte, MD, MPH, “All of these diseases [with increased mortality rates] are associated with increased insulin resistance and DNA damage. Their prevalence rates have all increased radically over the past several decades and show no sign of plateau. Because there has been a relatively short time interval associated with the dramatic shift in disease incidence and prevalence rates, we believe this is due to exposure-related rather than genetic etiologies.”
In other words, as our society has increased our consumption of processed meats and our use of industrial fertilizers on our food, we’ve also increased our exposure over time to toxic chemicals that not only give our kids cancer but kill us as adults, too.
So what can we do? We as a society need to address how we grow and process our food. I think we as individuals can do a lot by standing up for ourselves and our families and choosing healthy, whole, locally-grown organic food. So buy organic, support small, local, organic farms and farmers markets, go vegetarian if you can, and at the very least, say no to hot dogs at your summer picnics (try a veggie burger instead!)