What Are the Side Effects of the Nitrates Used in Food?

Nitrates, naturally occurring compounds consisting of oxygen and nitrogen, are found in soil, water and a number of foods, such as vegetables. Nitrates themselves are not harmful. Cured meats may contain nitrates as preservatives. Once eaten, nitrates convert to nitrite. Nitrites can combine with amines, products of protein breakdown in meats, to form nitrosamines, potentially harmful substances. Ascorbic acid must be added to foods in the United States that use sodium nitrate, because it decreases nitrosamine formation.

Increased Cancer Risk

Nitrosamines that form in cured meats have caused cancer in animals in a number of studies, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Cancers most commonly associated with nitrosamines include bladder, esophageal, nasopharynx and prostate cancers as well as non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the organization states. Nitrosamines may also increase the risk of developing colorectal and stomach cancer. Cancers of the central nervous system, heart, thyroid and kidney have also been produced in animal studies, the International Programme on Chemical Safety reports.

Frying bacon well-done creates more nitrosamines, most often nitrosopyrrolidine or, less commonly, dimethylnitrosamine, than not cooking it as well or microwaving it. Fat dripping on hot coals when nitrate-containing meats are broiled can produce benzopyrene, a carcinogenic substance that can be carried on the smoke and deposited back on the meat. While numerous animal studies indicate that nitrosamines have carcinogenic properties, human studies are needed.

Chromosomal Changes

In animal studies, administration of several types of known carcinogenic nitrosamines in animals produced genetic mutations and chromosomal abnormalities, according to the IPCS. Whether these same changes affect humans has not been adequately studied.

Teratogenic Changes

In animal studies, some types of nitrosamines have caused birth defects as well as increased pregnancy loss, the IPCS reports. Studies to determine the effects of humans are lacking.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
references
Load Comments
PARTNER & LICENSEE OF THE LIVESTRONG FOUNDATION

Copyright © 2019 Leaf Group Ltd. Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of the LIVESTRONG.COM Terms of Use , Privacy Policy and Copyright Policy . The material appearing on LIVESTRONG.COM is for educational use only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. LIVESTRONG is a registered trademark of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The LIVESTRONG Foundation and LIVESTRONG.COM do not endorse any of the products or services that are advertised on the web site. Moreover, we do not select every advertiser or advertisement that appears on the web site-many of the advertisements are served by third party advertising companies.