Red and processed meat increases risk of death

Consumption of red and processed meat modestly increases the death rate from cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

“These results complement the recommendations by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund to reduce red and processed meat intake to decrease cancer incidence,” Dr. Rashmi Sinha and colleagues, from the National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Maryland, state.

The findings stem from an analysis of data for half a million people who were enrolled in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. The subjects were between 50 to 71 years of age when the study began.

During 10 years of follow-up, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died, the report indicates.

Men who ate the most red and processed meat were 31 percent and 16 percent more likely to die, respectively, during follow-up than their peers who ate the least amount of these meats. The corresponding risks in women were 36 percent and 25 percent.

Regarding death from cancer, increased risks of 22 percent and 12 percent were seen in men with the highest vs. lowest red and processed meat consumption, respectively. The corresponding risks in women were 20 percent and 11 percent.

Men who ate the most red and processed meat were also 27 percent and 9 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, respectively, during follow-up than men who ate the least amount. The corresponding risks in women were 50 percent and 38 percent.

By contrast, “men and women who consumed a low-risk meat diet” - i.e., those who ate below average amounts of red meat and above average amounts of white meat - “had statistically significant lower hazard ratios compared with people who consumed a high-risk meat diet for all-cause-cancer, and cardiovascular disease mortality, as well as all other deaths,” according to Sinha and associates.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Barry M. Popkin, from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, comments that practicing clinicians should advise “their clients to consume small to moderate amounts of red meat and processed meats as a way to reduce the risk of a large number of chronic diseases.”

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, March 23, 2009.

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