The Link Between Dairy, Cancer, and Neu5gc

Feb 5, 2021

As brands like Yoplait continue to don pink lids in support of finding a cure for breast cancer, the mounting research is constantly leading back to animal products as a major cancer culprit. Oh, the irony. A recent French study (1) analyzed the link between Neu5Gc consumption (a compound only found in non-human animals) and cancer risk, and found a correlation between the two that cannot be ignored. 

What Is Neu5Gc

Neu5Gc is a sialic acid with a charge, meaning that it has “meet and greet” properties that allow it to bind to cell surfaces, lipids, and other biological structures. It is common in many mammals, but humans do not have the ability to form Neu5Gc. When ingested (IE by consuming meat or dairy), the human body develops an immune response against this foreign compound. This causes inflammation—one of the precursors to chronic disease. 

The Study

The data was gathered from the extensive Nutrient-Sante cohort study that has been on-going since 2009. Researchers specifically observed the diets of 120 individuals to get an idea of popular foods consumed within the French population, then sent these foods to be analyzed for their Neu5Gc content. The researchers were then able to apply this data to the diets of 19,000 participants to observe the correlation between Neu5Gc intake and cancer risk. Diet analysis showed that cow-based dairy and meat were the highest contributors to Neu5Gc in the diet (33 percent and 25 percent, respectively). 

Neu5Gc and Cancer

Neu5Gc is found in non-human mammals, and it translates into the human body when we consume foods that come from these animals (IE meat and dairy products). Researchers noted that cancer cells seem especially fond of displaying “a broad assortment of immunogenic Neu5Gc-glycans.” The participants that consumed the most mammalian foods also had the highest cases of cancer (in this study, researchers only looked at the prevalence of colorectal cancer). 

Based on this participant population, the results are not surprising. France lands in the top 15 countries with the highest meat consumption, and its rates of colorectal and breast cancer reflect these eating patterns. 

Evidence Supports Correlation Between Dairy and Cancer

Researchers concluded that their study supports the global correlation between meat and dairy consumption and increased cancer risk. While more research on Neu5Gc must be done to support causation, this study paves the way for other countries to replicate this scientific model to assess their population’s risk of cancer-based on dietary habits surrounding meat and dairy. Science has the potential to exponentially change the lives of millions, and governments have the responsibility to educate its citizens about the risks they take when they consume animal-based foods. With clear evidence, we can vastly decrease the prevalence of cancer in this world. 


1. Bashir, S., Fezeu, L.K., Leviatan Ben-Arye, S. et al. Association between Neu5Gc carbohydrate and serum antibodies against it provides the molecular link to cancer: French NutriNet-Santé study. BMC Med 18, 262 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-020-01721-8

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