Heterocyclic Amine

Heterocyclic amines [het-er-uh-sahy-klik uh-meen] (HCA) are chemical compounds containing at least one heterocyclic ring (a ring-shaped molecule that has atoms of at least two different elements) plus at least one amine (functional groups that contain a basic nitrogen atom with a lone pair). The biological function of heterocyclic amines can range from those of vitamins to carcinogens. Carcinogenic heterocyclic amines are created by high temperature cooking of meat, for example. HCAs form when amino acids and creatine (a chemical found in muscles) react at high cooking temperatures. Colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancer are associated with high intakes of well-done, fried, or barbecued meats.

People who eat medium-well or well done beef were more than three times as likely to suffer stomach cancer as those who ate rare or medium-rare beef. Other sources of protein (milk, eggs, tofu, and organ meats such as liver) have very little or no HCA content naturally or when cooked. Research has shown that an olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic marinade cut HCA levels in chicken by as much as 90%. Six hours of marinating in beer or red wine cut levels of two types of HCA in beef steak by up to 90% compared with unmarinated steak.

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