Eating a relatively large amount of red meat every day appears to increase the risk of inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, new study findings suggest.
These findings add to the list of health problems that can be caused by eating too much red meat, and suggest people should opt for smaller servings, study author Dr. Alan J. Silman told Reuters Health.
"Our argument is that the advise to keep red meat intake down, which is good for diseases such as heart disease and cancer, is also good for arthritis prevention," he said.
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system, for unknown reasons, mistakenly attacks the joints, leading to inflammation, swelling and pain. Over time, this process erodes the bone and soft tissue within the joints. In contrast, the most common form of arthritis, known as osteoarthritis, results from a progressive loss of cartilage from "wear and tear" and the development of bony overgrowths that can lead to inflammation and severe joint pain.
Experts have long wondered whether lifestyle factors may increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Research has linked smoking and drinking a lot of coffee to rheumatoid arthritis, while suggesting that eating lots of fish and vegetables may protect people from the condition.
Still other research indicates that low intake of fruit and vitamin C can increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. However, it is not clear whether the increased risk is due to low vitamin C itself, or to other factors such as high red meat intake -- people who don't eat much fruit might tend to also eat lots of red meat, Silman and his team argue.
To investigate the effect of red meat alone, Silman, who is based at the University of Manchester in the UK, and his colleagues examined data on 25,630 people between the ages of 45 and 75 who were followed for up to 9 years. In general, people who developed rheumatoid arthritis ate more red meat and less vitamin C than people who stayed arthritis-free throughout the study, which appears in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism. Eating a relatively large amount of meat overall also appeared to increase arthritis risk, the investigators report.
Silman noted that red meat may increase risk by stimulating the production of antibodies against collagen, or by exposing people to infectious organisms that help trigger the condition.
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