Red meat linked to greater risk of cardiovascular and cancer death

March 13, 2012 in Cancer Prevention, Heart Health, Nutrition Topics in the News

Red meat linked to greater risk of cardiovascular and cancer death

A new study from Harvard School of Public Health has found that eating red meat is associated with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular and cancer mortality. The findings also revealed that substituting other healthy protein sources such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes, was associated with a lower risk of mortality.

This study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies.

The researchers observed 37,698 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for up to 22 years and 83,644 women in the Nurses' Health Study for up to 28 years who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer when they were enrolled in the study. Food intakes were assessed through questionnaires every four years.

Regular consumption of red meat - especially processed red meat - was associated with increased risk of dying. One daily 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat (about the size of a deck of cards) was associated with a 13% greater risk of mortality. One daily serving of processed red meat (one hot dog or two slices of bacon) was associated with a 20% increased risk.

Among specific causes of death, the corresponding increases in risk were 18% and 21% for cardiovascular mortality and 10% and 16% for cancer mortality. The researchers accounted for other risk factors such as age, body weight, physical activity, family history of heart disease or cancers.

Red meat, especially processed meat, contains ingredients that have been linked to increased risk of chronic diseases. These include heme iron, saturated fat, sodium, nitrites and certain carcinogens that are formed during high heat cooking.

Replacing one serving of total red meat with one serving of a healthy protein source was associated with a lower mortality risk: 7% for fish, 14% for poultry, 19% for nuts, 10% for legumes, 10% for low-fat dairy products, and 14% for whole grains. The researchers estimated that 9.3% of deaths in men and 7.6% in women could have been prevented at the end of the follow-up if all the participants had consumed less than half a serving per day of red meat.

The researchers say this study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death and choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality.

Leslie's note: Current recommendations are to eat less than 500 grams (18 ounces) of red meat per week and avoid processed red meat (e.g. ham, bologna, salami, pastrami, hot dogs, sausages, etc.).

Source: Archives of Internal Medicine, March 12, 2012

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