How harmful are nitrates and nitrites?

Every great once in a while mainline medical advice reverses itself about something important – what was bad becomes good or what was good becomes bad. That happened with Vitamin D in recent years when stern warnings never to exceed 400IU a day gave way to recommendations that it is good for older people to take anywhere up to 4000IU per day. A reversal may now be taking place having to do with whether nitrates and nitrites lead to cancers and Alzheimer`s Disease and are therefore bad for you, or whether they have great cardiovascular effects and are therefore good for you. There is controversy about this, clashing and clanging of gears as contradictory health advice is commonly given.

The arguments against consumption of substantial amounts of nitrates and nitrites are both old and new and are fairly convincing:

• Nitrites are converted into nitrosamines under a number of conditions, and nitrosamines are known to be toxic or carcinogenic.

• Exposure to nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines is correlated with higher incidences of Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

• Consumption of foods containing large amounts of nitrates or nitrites lead to higher incidences of several cancers.

• Shorter telomere lengths, biomarkers of aging,  are associated with consumption of processed meats containing nitrates/nitrites/nitrosamines, but not with consumption of unprocessed meats.  

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