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Bad Rap for Nitrate?

Infamous preservative may help defend against bacteria
hot dog



ARTHUR BECK Corbis

Nitrate, a preservative in hot dogs and other meats as well as a natural ingredient in greens such as lettuce and spinach, was once considered a dietary scourge for its potential link to stomach cancer. But biologists are now starting to think that dietary nitrate is actually part of the body's inherent defense against infection and have begun testing treatments based on the idea.

Nitrate (NO3¿) became suspect in the 1950s, when researchers found that a class of its derivatives, called N-nitrosamines, damages DNA and causes cancer in laboratory rats and farm animals. A score of subsequent epidemiological studies generally found no consistent association between nitrate intake and human stomach cancer, however.

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