Meat Fumes: Dietary Secondhand Smoke?

A year ago I posted a two minute video entitled Carcinogens in the Smell of Frying Bacon, in which I described the ability of the fumes generated by frying meat to mutate DNA. This helped explain both the increased risk of respiratory tract cancer among cooks as well as the lower proportion of deaths from respiratory diseases and lung cancer among vegetarians.

If you are going to cook something like bacon and eggs, the barbeque people have the right idea—do it outdoors in the fresh air. Up to 10 times the amount of particles are deposited deep into the lung of individuals cooking indoors compared to outdoors.

Pregnant women, newborns, and young children may be at particular risk. In the video above I show that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the vapors released from cooking meat may not only increase the risk of cancer, but also be hazardous for fetal development. Pregnant women exposed to the grilling of meat—even if they don’t eat it—appear to give birth to babies with a weight deficit and a smaller head circumference.

Even just living next door to a restaurant preparing meat may pose a hazard. Researchers estimated the excess cancer cases expected among neighbors of various types of restaurants—Chinese, American-style, and barbeque joints. Guess which was type of restaurant was the riskiest? Click on the above video to find out—you may be surprised!

How else can we protect our lungs? See Preventing COPD With Diet and Treating COPD With Diet.

And how else can we protect the next generation? Feel free to check out:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Image credit: Kake Pugh and Valters Krontals / Flickr

Cancer-Proofing Your Body
How Do Plant-Based Diets Fight Cancer?
Avoiding Cooked Meat Carcinogens


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago


William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

Bonnie M.
Bonnie M4 years ago

Sometimes I wonder if it is even safe to breathe.

Marianne Good
Past Member 4 years ago


Chinmayee Jog
Chinmayee Jog4 years ago

As usual, most things to do with meat are unhealthy and gross - nothing new there!

Robert O.
Robert O4 years ago

Thank you Dr. Greger.

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

Melinda K.
Past Member 4 years ago

This is new to me, thanks.

Barbara D.
Past Member 4 years ago

Oh, puh..leez!! Get over it people! I've got a hell of a lot better things to worry about. And don't they say that too much WORRY isn't healthy???

Monica D.
Monica D4 years ago

Thank you for this interesting and helpful information.