Processed meat and high sodium intake are common in Western diet. The objective was to examine their independent effects on the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC).
We performed both observational analysis with UK Biobank and genetic analysis with Mendelian randomization (MR). The 24-h urinary sodium (UNa) and reported intake of processed meat were fitted on incident CRC by multivariable Cox proportional hazard model, adjusted for covariates, such as age, gender, family history, etc. Different sodium measures were used for sensitivity analyses. Two-sample MR analyses were performed using summary data from genome-wide association studies of UNa and CRC. Multivariable MR was adjusted for body mass index.
We included 415 524 eligible participants from UK Biobank. During a median follow-up of 11.1 years, 2663 participants were diagnosed with CRC. High intake of processed meat independently increased risk of CRC by 23% (HR 1.23; 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.46), but 24-h UNa was not significantly associated with CRC (HR 0.96; 95% CI: 0.87 to 1.06). Furthermore, MR also showed little evidence for the effect of UNa on CRC (OR 1.02; 95% CI: 0.11 to 9.42). Sensitivity analyses showed consistent results across different measurements of sodium intake.
Intake of processed meat had an independent effect on the risk of CRC, but the risk was not associated with sodium level. Reduction of processed meat intake may be an effective strategy for CRC prevention, while sodium reduction should still be recommended to achieve other health benefits.

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