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Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) versus saturated fats/cholesterol: their proportion in fatty and lean meats may affect the risk of developing colon cancer

Aldo R Eynard* and Cristina B Lopez

Author Affiliations

Instituto de Biología Celular, Cátedra de Histología, FCM-UNC/CONICET. Casilla de Correos 220, 5000 Córdoba. ARGENTINA

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Lipids in Health and Disease 2003, 2:6  doi:10.1186/1476-511X-2-6

Published: 29 August 2003


In spite of the considerable amount of experimental, clinical and epidemiological research about the consumption of red meat, total fats, saturated/unsaturated fatty acids and cholesterol with regard to the risk of developing colorectal cancer (CRC), the issue remains controversial. The general belief is a reduction of red meat intake, and subsequent nutritional advice usually strongly recommends this. Paradoxically, beef together with whole milk and dairy derivatives, are almost the only sources for conjugated linoleic acid (CLAs) family. Furthermore CLAs are the only natural fatty acids accepted by the National Academy of Sciences of USA as exhibiting consistent antitumor properties at levels as low as 0.25 – 1.0 per cent of total fats. Beside CLA, other polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) belonging to the essential fatty acid (EFA) n-3 family, whose main source are fish and seafood, are generally believed to be antipromoters for several cancers. The purpose of this work is to critically analyze the epidemiological and experimental evidence by tentatively assuming that the reciprocal proportions of saturated fats (SA) plus cholesterol (CH) versus CLAs levels in fatty or lean beef may play an antagonistic role underlying the contradictory effects reported for red meats consumption and CRC risk. Recent results about meat intake and risk for CRC in Argentina have shown an unexpected dual behaviour related to the type of meats. Fatty meat derivatives, such as cold cuts and sausages, mainly prepared from fatty beef (up to 37% fat) were associated with higher risk, whereas high consumption of lean beef (< 15% fat) behaved as a protective dietary habit. CLA is located in the interstitial, non-visible, fat evenly distributed along muscle fibres as well as in subcutaneous depots. Visible fat may be easily discarded during the meal, whereas interstitial fats will be eaten. The remaining intramuscular fat in lean meats range from 25 to 50 g/Kg (2.5 to 5%). The proportion of CLA/SA+CH for lean beef eaters is 0.09 and the fatty mets 0.007 (g/100 g). As a consequence, the beneficial effects of minor amounts of CLA may be relatively enhanced in lean meat compared to fatty meat sub-products which contain a substantial amount of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, as in cold cuts and cow viscera.

CLA; red meats; fats; cholesterol; colon cancer; essential fatty acids; PUFA