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These Foods Actually Damage Your DNA

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April 23, 2018

By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist


There are few things that qualify as shocking but this is one of them --- certain foods actually damage your DNA. Isn't DNA immutable, sort of like gravity? How can anything change something that by definition is never supposed to change?

This question has begun to attract a lot of attention around the web, with various headlines suggesting that a range of vegetables and other foods actually damage your DNA and cause cancer.

We sifted through the scientific studies on the connection, if any, between eating certain foods and increasing your risk of DNA damage. Here is what we found.

A Compound Called P53 Is Activated When Your DNA Is Damaged

The body is a collection of systems designed to fend off invaders and substances that may harm it. That is why you have a gag reflex, and allergic response, and an immunity system, to name a few examples.  You would expect that with something as fundamental and essential as your DNA, that the body would have a system fro protecting it too. You would be right.

The body has an early alert system whenever your DNA is damaged. The heart of the system is a compound called P53. P53 production is triggered whenever DNA damage is detected. Thus, higher levels of P53 mean high levels of DNA damage.

With that in mind, scientists from of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine led by oncology Professor Scott Kern set out to discover which foods triggered a rise in P53.


The Kerns team know that certain chemotherapy drugs such as etoposide cause damage DNA. Would any foods cause this much damage?


Which Foods Cause DNA Damage?
















They tested a wide range of foods and discovered some that indeed trigger an elevation in P53. 

Here were the most damaging foods. These foods triggered a rise in P53 to levels 30-times higher than normal. This is the magnitude of DNA damage caused by the chemotherapy drug etoposide.

The most damaging foods were

In liquid smoke and smoked foods, the chemicals that caused the P53 spike were  "pyrogallol" and gallic acid.  You also find these chemicals in hair dye, cocoa, roasted malt, tea and coffee.

Come on, Are Tea and Coffee Really Causing Cancer?

We think that the high levels of P53 detected in certain of these foods such as tea and coffee could be caused by a different mechanism. Could it be that P53 is a repair mechanism and that other compounds are actually causing the DNA damage?  It just strikes us that tea as a candidate carcinogen is a bit farfetched given the many studies that have associated tea, particularly green tea, with lower cancer rates, not higher.

But as for smoked meats, this finding is consistent with other studies that have linked consumption of smoked meats and meat grilled over an open flame with increased risk of cancer, particularly pancreatic cancer.

We'll need to see this study's results replicated to rely on it fully. We'll keep you posted as new studies roll out.


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