Too much of a good thing? Nitrate from nitrogen fertilizers and cancer

Rev Environ Health. 2009 Oct-Dec;24(4):357-63. doi: 10.1515/reveh.2009.24.4.357.


Nitrate levels in water supplies have been increasing in many areas of the world; therefore, additional studies of populations with well-characterized exposures are urgently needed to further our understanding of cancer risk associated with nitrate ingestion. Future studies should assess exposure for individuals (e.g., case-control, cohort studies) in a time frame relevant to disease development, and evaluate factors affecting nitrosation. Estimating N-nitroso compounds formation via nitrate ingestion requires information on dietary and drinking water sources of nitrate, inhibitors of nitrosation (e.g., vitamin C), nitrosation precursors (e.g., red meat, nitrosatable drugs), and medical conditions that may increase nitrosation (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease). Studies should account for the potentially different effects of dietary and water sources of nitrate and should include the population using private wells for whom exposure levels are often higher than public supplies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Biomedical Research
  • Carcinogens / toxicity
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Fertilizers / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Nitrates / analysis
  • Nitrates / pharmacokinetics
  • Nitrates / toxicity*
  • Nitrogen / analysis
  • Nitrogen / pharmacokinetics
  • Nitrogen / toxicity*
  • Nitrosamines / toxicity
  • Nitrosamines / urine
  • Thyroid Gland / drug effects
  • Water Supply*


  • Carcinogens
  • Fertilizers
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrosamines
  • Nitrogen