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nitrosamines

Sunday 12 March 2006

Nitrosamines and amides are carcinogens of interest because of the possibility that they are formed in the gastrointestinal tract of humans and so may contribute to the induction of some forms of cancer, particularly gastric carcinoma. Nitrosamines and amides are derived in the stomach from the reaction of nitrostable amines and nitrate used as a preservative, which is converted to nitrites by bacteria. Concerns about these agents have led many to shun processed food containing nitrate preservatives.

Nitrosamines are carcinogenic chemical compounds of the chemical structure R2N-N=O. Nitrosamines are produced from nitrites and amines. Their formation can only occur under certain conditions, including strongly acidic conditions such as that of the human stomach.

The nitrite forms nitrous acid (HNO2), which splits into the nitrosyl cation (N=O+) and the hydroxide (OH-) anion. The nitrosyl cation then reacts with an amine to produce nitrosamine.

Nitrosamines are found in many foodstuffs especially beer, fish, fish byproducts, and in meat and cheese products preserved with nitrite pickling salt. They are formed when the food protein reacts with nitrite salts in the stomach. They can also be formed by frying or smoking. The rule of thumb is: nitrosamine-content is lower if the food was processed less, less preservatives were used, and natural production techniques were used.

See also

- carcinogens
- mutagens