Red and Processed Meat Consumption Linked to Increased Heart Disease Risk

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Red and Processed Meat Consumption Linked to Increased Heart Disease Risk

Eating red meat such as beef, pork, or lamb, as well as processed meats from any animal source, is linked to an increased risk for ischemic heart disease — marked by inadequate blood flow to the heart — according to a new analysis published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

Scientists have long known or suspected that both red meat and processed meat pose unique health risks. Processed meat, in particular, has been shown to increase the risk of death even when consumed in moderation, and both red and processed meat have been linked to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Other studies have found that consuming poultry, in addition to red meat and processed meat, may increase the risk for both diabetes and heart disease.

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Increased red and processed meat linked to increase heart disease risk

For the latest analysis, researchers aimed to look at as many studies as possible to explore the relationship between red meat, poultry, and processed meat intake and ischemic heart disease. Across 13 studies, they found evidence that both red meat and processed meat are linked to an increased risk for this form of heart disease. For every increase of 50 grams (1.76 ounces) in unprocessed red meat consumed each day, they found an accompanying increase of 9% in the risk for ischemic heart disease. For every similar increase in processed meat consumption, the risk for ischemic heart disease increased by 18%. There was no increase in the risk for ischemic heart disease seen with increased poultry consumption.

The researchers noted that there could be several potential explanations for why consuming red or processed meat increases the risk for ischemic heart disease. One is that these forms of meat tend to be high in saturated fat, which has been linked to higher blood levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad”) cholesterol — a well-known risk factor for heart disease. Another potential explanation that is specific to red meat (and processed red meat) is that it contains a chemical called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), which may contribute to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty deposits on the inside walls of blood vessels. Yet another potential explanation is specific to processed meat — this form of meat is universally high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure, another well known risk factor for heart disease. But despite all of these potential explanations, “The specific causal mechanisms linking red and processed meat with [ischemic heart disease] remain unclear,” the researchers wrote.

“This study provides substantial evidence that unprocessed red and processed meat, though not poultry, might be risk factors” for ischemic heart disease, the researchers concluded. They added that these findings are in line with what previous analyses of multiple studies have found, while the lack of a relationship between poultry intake and ischemic heart disease risk represents the first such finding in any known analysis of multiple studies.

Want to learn more about protecting your heart? Read “Be Heart Smart: Know Your Numbers,” “Does Diabetes Hurt Your Heart?” “Fight Off Heart Disease With These Five Heart-Healthy Foods” and “Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

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A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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