Eating More Red Meat May Mean Quicker Death

Increasing consumption of both processed and unprocessed red meat was associated with a greater risk of dying during the study period, data from two large, prospective studies showed.

Through up to 28 years of follow-up, each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with a relative 13% to 20% increased risk of all-cause mortality, with the higher risk attributed to processed meats, according to Frank Hu, MD, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues.

It was estimated that 9.3% of the deaths in men and 7.6% of the deaths in women could have been prevented by consuming less than half of a serving of red meat (42 grams) per day, roughly equivalent to about one hot dog, the researchers reported online in Archives of Internal Medicine.

However, 77.2% of men and 90.4% of women consumed more than that during the studies.

Hu and colleagues examined data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which tracked men ages 40 to 75 at baseline from 1986 to 2008, and from the Nurses’ Health Study, which followed women ages 30 to 55 at baseline from 1980 to 2008.

The current analysis included 37,698 men and 83,644 women, all of whom were free from cardiovascular disease and cancer at baseline.

Eating red meat increases the risk of early death, a new study concludes. It was based on medical records and surveys of about 120,000 men and women. They were part of two long-running studies. Everyone regularly answered questions about foods they ate. Researchers kept track of their health for about 28 years. In that time, almost 24,000 died. People who ate about one serving of red meat daily had a 13% increased risk of death. People who ate more meat also had less healthy lifestyles. However, researchers adjusted their numbers to account for these differences. Adjusted death rates from heart and artery disease alone were 18% higher for someone who ate a daily serving of unprocessed red meat. The increase was 21% if the meats were processed, such as bacon and hot dogs. Cancer deaths increased 10% for unprocessed and 16% for processed red meats. Researchers estimated that cutting back to half a serving of red meat daily could reduce death rates 9.3% for men and 7.6% for women. The journal Archives of Internal Medicine published the study. USA Today, the New York Times and HealthDay News wrote about it March 13, 2012.

Diet was assessed at baseline and every four years using a food frequency questionnaire. Unprocessed red meat included beef, pork, lamb, or hamburger and processed red meat included bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, and bologna.

During follow-up, the amount of red meat eaten declined for both men and women.

There were 23,926 deaths, including 5,910 from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 from cancer.

What Changes Can I Make Now?

If you eat a lot of red meat, try to cut down. The study suggested that eating less than half a serving daily of red meat (about 9 ounces or less a week) is healthier for you.

The editorial, by Dean Ornish, M.D, offers some good ideas about healthy eating.

- Eat little red meat and even fewer processed red meats.
- Eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Eat few processed foods of any kind.
- Increase “good fats,” such as omega-3 fatty acids and flax oils.
- Decreased trans fats, saturated fats and hydrogenated fats.

Eat well. Eat less overall. Moderation is a good thing.

Consistent with the analysis of all-cause mortality, each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular mortality (HRs 1.18 for unprocessed products and 1.21 for processed products) and cancer mortality (HRs 1.10 and 1.16).

That was after adjustment for several potential confounders, including age, body mass index, alcohol consumption, physical activity levels, smoking status, race, menopausal status and hormone use in women, family history of diabetes, MI, or cancer, personal history of diabetes, hypertension, or hypercholesterolemia, and intakes of total energy, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Additional adjustment for other foods or nutrients yielded similar findings. Adjustment for saturated fat, cholesterol, and heme iron weakened the relationships with cardiovascular mortality slightly, although they remained statistically significant.

A recent study by the U.S. National Cancer Institute claims that consuming red meat contributes to a host of health risks, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and stomach ulcers.

The consumption of red meat was associated with a modest increase in total mortality,” said Rashmi Sinha, lead author of the study, which appeared in the March 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Sinha, Ph.D., and a team of researchers at the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Md., evaluated the connection between meat intake and risk of death among more than 500,000 individuals ranging in age from 50 to 71 years old when the study began in 1995.

Individuals in the study were followed for 10 years and it was determined that of the 47,976 men and 23,276 women who died during that period, the one-fifth of men and women who ate the most red meat (a median or midpoint of 62.5 grams per 1,000 calories per day) had a higher risk for overall death, death from heart disease and death from cancer than the one-fifth of men and women who ate the least red meat (a median of 9.8 grams per 1,000 calories per day).

The researchers estimated that substituting one serving per day of various other foods - like fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains - for red meat was associated with a 7% to 19% lower risk of dying during follow-up.

In an accompanying commentary Dean Ornish, MD, of the University of California San Francisco, noted that “plant-based foods are rich in phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, and other substances that are protective.”

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