060141 Beef Helps Fight Cancer & Obesity

January 27, 2006

Clemson University - New findings concerning an old traditional dinner meat may have a positive impact on Americans. An accidental discovery in 1987 in the beef industry has lead to major discoveries in cancer and weight control research.

That year, a study was done to find the negative effects of beef on rats. Rats were injected with cancer and then injected with beef extract. Scientists were astonished that the cancer tumors disappeared. Not too long after this discovery, Clemson University and the University of Georgia became involved in the research.

"Both of us (Susan Duckett, holder of the Corley Endowed Chair in Animal Sciences, and I) got into this shortly after the discovery," Tom Jenkins, Professor of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, said.

Tom Jenkins has been working for Clemson University for 20 years. For the past 10, he has researched lipid compounds found in mostly dairy and milk products.

Susan Duckett has been working mostly with beef products for approximately 15 years at the University of Georgia until her recent move to Clemson University.

"Dr. Duckett has just joined Clemson University as an endowed chair in animal sciences and has had a distinguished career," Jenkins said.

Since the discovery in 1987 research into the beneficial aspects of cow beef has increased. In every ruminant, which are cud-chewing animals with a four (or three) compartment stomach including cattle, sheep, goats and deer, there is a microbial fermentation vat at the beginning of the digestive system.

"Cows can hold as much as 55 gallons in this vat. Can you imagine that? That's big enough for one of us to crawl inside," Jenkins said.

This vat is filled with microorganisms that digest hay and other foods and make lipids. The reason beef contains anti-carcinogens, chemicals that prevent cancer, is not due to the cow itself, but instead is due to the microorganisms living inside the cow's microbial fermentation vat.

These tiny microorganisms produce conjugated linoleic acids, CLAs, a fatty acid, which are cancer- fighting and weight-controlling lipid compounds. Approximately 17 or 18 CLAs have been discovered but the specific functions of each have not been fully identified.

"Most lipid compounds that were discovered in cattle including dairy and milk are found in small amounts, but they have very potent cancer-fighting agents" Jenkins said.

Not only is this a discovery for cancer research but also weight-control research. In rat studies, the rats fed beef became leaner than those who were not. This may be due to the CLAs in the milk, said Jenkins.

"CLAs could be apart of milk contributing to leanness, but we're not ready to say 100 percent," he said.

Another CLA discovery was that the cattle's diet can be controlled to increase the production of CLAs. Pasture cows can make up to double the CLAs than non-pasture cows, which means this process is low-risk for producers and consumers. However, more CLAs are produced in cows when they are fed high amounts of fat which creates risk for cattle, said Jenkins.

"High amounts of fat in animals can cause problems with growth and function in microorganisms in the cow," he said.

For years, the USDA and other governmental agencies have asked consumers to limit their intake of dairy and beef products because of a link to fat intake and obesity. However, with these recent discoveries this may change.

"These compounds found in animals contribute to positive human nutrition," Duckett said.

Either obesity or cancer has affected many of the students and employees of this campus through personal experience or just knowing someone with an issue. The discoveries Clemson University has made of CLAs in cows may have an effect on the intake of beef and dairy products on campus.

"I do have a case of obesity, and red meat is bad for you because I have high blood pressure. I guess if it was lean meat it would be OK but I don't eat beef very much," Shelia Young, custodian, said.

On the other hand, students who know the high rates of cancer and obesity may want to take action to help prevent these diseases.

"Of course I would eat more dairy and beef, who wouldn't eat more of something if they knew it made you skinnier and it prevented cancer?" said Caroline Yarborough, a freshman majoring in history.

With this in mind, beef and dairy products may be coming back to the dinner table according to researchers like Jenkins.

"I'm not saying only eat beef and dairy products; it needs to be a part of a well-balanced diet; but this is a win-win situation," Jenkins said.

Source: The Tiger: Online Edition (Clemson University)


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