More Red Meat = Shorter Life

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A study published in the March Archives of Internal Medicine showed that men and women eating more red meat were significantly more likely to die from both cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer compared to those eating other foods. This study was done by Dr. Pan and associates at Harvard’s School of Public Health. They analyzed data about the diets of more than 120,000 men and women from the Nurses’ Health and Male Health Professionals stud- ies and its association with dying from various causes over 28 years. During that time Dr. Pan’s study documented 23,926 deaths, including 5,910 from CVD and 9,464 from cancer. They observed an increased risk of total mortality that was 12% greater for each extra red meat serving consumed per day. They also found a 13% increased risk of dying for each additional serving of unprocessed red meat and a 20% increased risk of death for each extra serving of processed red meat consumed daily. In their substitution analyses, the authors estimated that replacing one serving of total red meat brought these reductions: 7% for fish, 10% for legumes, 10% for low-fat dairy products, 14% for whole grains, 14% for poultry, and 19% for nuts. “We estimated that 9.3% in men and 7.6% in women of total deaths during follow-up could have been prevented if all the participants consumed fewer than 0.5 servings per day of total red meat in these cohorts,” according to Dr. Pan.

Bottom Line: Prospective cohort studies provide strong circumstantial evidence linking the consumption of red meat to a reduced life expectancy. The mechanism may be related to high heme iron content or a higher content of advanced glycation end products, and/or a relatively high content of known and suspected carcinogens. Previous research has shown that people who consume more red meat and particularly more processed red meats are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, CVD, and some types of cancer. While the jury is still out on what it is about red meat and particularly processed red meats that pro- mote disease and shorten life it certainly makes sense for those seeking a longer and healthier life to limit their intake of red meat.

By James J. Kenney, PhD, FACN.

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