The nitrogen-containing compounds that food producers use to cure meats may become reactive in the body and could affect the lungs, says a new study.
Previous studies have found a link between processed meats and cancer, but the latest study by Graham Barr at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and colleagues is the first one to show the affect on lung function in humans, reported the online edition of the New Scientist.
Barr and his team analysed data from more than 7,500 people surveyed in a national nutrition study. About 20 percent of participants never ate cured meats and another 20 percent reported consuming this type of food at least 14 times a month.
During the study, participants breathed into a machine that measured their lung function, including testing how quickly they could blow out air. A healthy person can usually expel about 2.5 litres to 3.0 litres of air from their lungs in one second.
Those who consumed a lot of cured meats managed 115 millilitres of air less per second than those who ate none, the team found. The result was statistically significant.
While the average person might not notice a three percent decrease in lung strength, those who have lung disease may do so.
Preliminary analysis should not stop people from eating cured meats, Barr says, although more research needs to be done. He will present the findings from the new study at the European Respiratory Society meeting in Munich this week.