Myth: Nitrite In Cured Meat Is Linked To Diseases Like Cancer


The U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is considered the "gold standard" in determining whether substances cause cancer, completed a multi-year study in which rats and mice were fed high levels of sodium nitrite. The study found that nitrite was not associated with cancer. NTP maintains a list of chemicals found to be carcinogenic. Sodium nitrite is not on that list. 1

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Not only does nitrite NOT cause cancer, scientists at the National Institutes of Health 2 and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have discovered that nitrite actually has health benefits. When nitrite’s safety was questioned in the 1970s, scientists had not yet discovered that the human body makes nitrite as part of its normal, healthy nitrogen cycle. While this is surprising to many people who for years have thought they should avoid dietary nitrite, study after study has shown that nitrite can:

While conducting research for the National Institutes of Health Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Marc Gladwin, M.D., said "The idea it’s bad for you has not played out." 11 Indeed, Gladwin's group found that infusing nitrite into patients with a variety of health conditions was an inexpensive and extremely effective treatment.

  1. National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens (accessed November 5, 2010).
  2. Gladwin, MT, et. al., The emerging biology of the nitrite anion, 2005 (accessed July 19, 2010).
  3. "Acute Blood Pressure Lowering, Vasoprotective, and Antiplatelet Properties of Dietary Nitrate via Bioconversion to Nitrite Hypertension." 2008 51 (3) 784-790. "Effects of dietary nitrate on blood pressure in healthy volunteers." N Engl J Med 355: 2792–2793, 2006.
  4. "Dietary nitrite supplementation protects against myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury." Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104: 19144–19149, 2007.
  5. Early intravenous infusion of sodium nitrite protects brain against in vivo ischemia-reperfusion injury. Stroke 37: 2744–2750, 2006.
  6. Nitric Oxide and Reproduction, Molecular Human Reproduction, Vol.3 No.8 pp. 639–641, 1997.
  7. Dermal Nitrite Application Enhances Global Nitric Oxide Availability: New Therapeutic Potential for Immunomodulation: Dermal Nitrite Administration Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 130, 608-611m February 2010.
  8. Cytoprotective effects of nitrite during in vivo ischemia-reperfusion of the heart and liver, Journal of Clinical Investigation 115; 1232-1240, 2005.
  9. Sodium nitrite promotes regional blood flow in patients with sickle cell disease: a phase I/II study, Br J Haematol. 2008 September; 142(6): 971–978.
  10. Lundberg, JO, et. al., The nitrate–nitrite–nitric oxide pathway in physiology and therapeutics, 2006 (accessed July 19, 2010).
  11. Hot Dog Preservative Could Be Disease Cure, USA Today., September 5, 2005 (accessed July 19, 2010).